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Genetic Linkage

How the Human Lost Its Tail

In 1902's Just So Stories for Little Children, British author Rudyard Kipling famously explained curiosities of the animal kingdom: How the Leopard Got His Spots, How the Camel got his Hump, How the Rhinoceros got his Skin, to name a few.


Reading Just So Stories was one of my earliest memories of thinking like a scientist. I see them in articles on animals' oddities, such as How the Tabby Got its Stripes, in which I explored a molecular explanation for fur color patterns set in the fetus, from a report in Nature Communications.


Now new research published in Nature brings the just-so approach to the loss of tails among apes – including us.


Apes R Us


Whether or not taillessness was a liability as we evolved depends upon perspective and imagination. Would absence of a fifth appendage have made walking erect – bipedalism – easier? All mammals other than apes have tails, if only as embryos, which is the case for humans. Our tailbones are the remnants of tails.


To continue reading, go to DNA Science, where this post first appeared.

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