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Metabolite role in human evolution evaluated for the first time

Chimpanzee mother and baby.
Chimpanzee mother and baby.
Steve from Washington, D. C. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

The small molecules that are consumed as diet played a much larger role in the development of human’s mental and physical abilities than has previously been known. This is the conclusion based on research conducted by scientists from Shanghai's CAS-MPG Partner Institute for Computational Biology in China and Max Planck Institutes in Germany. The research was published in the May 27, 2014, edition of the journal Public Library of Science.

The human metabolome, the aggregated compendium of small molecules like sugars, vitamins, amino acids, that are ingested by man and produce the various tissues of the body, was found to have an interrelation with evolutionary development. The relationship explains why man’s brain developed to consume much larger amounts of energy than other animal’s brains. The evolutionary development of mental ability and physical strength was demonstrated by the researchers. The metabolome is a more dynamic system than the genome and can produce more information than genetics.

The scientists examined the more than 10,000 compounds that make up the tissues of men, chimpanzees, macaque monkeys, and mice. The scientists found that the rapid evolution of human’s cognitive abilities and human’s physical abilities were linked and related to their metabolome. This finding explains why human’s mental abilities evolved about four times as fast as those of related primates and shows that human muscle composition evolved about 10 times faster that related apes. The development could not be a function of environment according to the researchers.

The researchers tested their theory in the first known comparison of physical strength between humans and related primate species. Humans are only half as physically strong as primates. Primates that were exposed to a “couch-potato” lifestyle like many humans still maintained a physical strength advantage. Food, chemistry, and function explain why man developed a higher cognitive ability at the cost of physical strength.