Gene Mutation Made Our Ancestors Better Long Distance Runners

By Mark Barna

Humans aren’t as strong as lions, can’t run as fast as cheetahs and don’t see as well as owls. But there is one thing we are pretty good at: endurance running.

Between 2 and 3 million years ago, our African ancestors adapted to a climate period that caused forests to thin and arid savannahs to expand. Changes to their biology and skeletal structure enabled them to run longer distances, offering a survival advantage in hunting prey, scientists say.

It is believed our ancestors back then engaged in persistence hunting, where animals are chased across open expanses until they’re exhausted and easily killed. This was also the time when hominids were likely eating more meat, which has been linked to increasing brain size.

But a missing piece in the puzzle of this transformation of hominids into meat-eating, spear-carrying endurance runners has been lack of genetic and molecular evidence. A paper published Sept. 12 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B offers a step in that direction.

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