Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Primates: Now with only half the calories!

Lincoln Park Zoo and an international team of scientists uncover new information about primates that could lead to new understanding about human health and longevity

New research shows that humans and other primates burn 50% fewer calories each day than other mammals. The study, published January 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that these remarkably slow metabolisms explain why humans and other primates grow up so slowly and live such long lives.

The study also reports that primates in zoos expend as much energy as those in the wild, suggesting that physical activity may have less of an impact on daily energy expenditure than is often thought.

Most mammals, like the family dog or pet hamster, live a fast-paced life, reaching adulthood in a matter of months, reproducing prodigiously (if we let them), and dying in their teens if not well before. By comparison, humans and our primate relatives (apes, monkeys, tarsiers, lorises, and lemurs) have long childhoods, reproduce infrequently, and live exceptionally long lives. Primates' slow pace of life has long puzzled biologists because the mechanisms underlying it were unknown.

An international team of scientists working with primates in zoos, sanctuaries, and in the wild examined daily energy expenditure in 17 primate species, from gorillas to mouse lemurs, to test whether primates' slow pace of life results from a slow metabolism. Using a safe and non-invasive technique known as "doubly labeled water," which tracks the body's production of carbon dioxide, the researchers measured the number of calories that primates burned over a 10 day period. Combining these measurements with similar data from other studies, the team compared daily energy expenditure among primates to that of other mammals.

"The results were a real surprise," said Herman Pontzer, an anthropologist at Hunter College in New York and the lead author of the study. "Humans, chimpanzees, baboons, and other primates expend only half the calories we'd expect for a mammal. To put that in perspective, a human – even someone with a very physically active lifestyle – would need to run a marathon each day just to approach the average daily energy expenditure of a mammal their size."

This dramatic reduction in metabolic rate, previously unknown for primates, accounts for their slow pace of life. All organisms need energy to grow and reproduce, and energy expenditure can also contribute to aging. The slow rates of growth, reproduction, and aging among primates match their slow rate of energy expenditure, indicating that evolution has acted on metabolic rate to shape primates' distinctly slow lives.

"The environmental conditions favoring reduced energy expenditures may hold a key to understanding why primates, including humans, evolved this slower pace of life," said David Raichlen, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona and a coauthor of the study.

Perhaps just as surprising, the team's measurements show that primates in captivity expend as many calories each day as their wild counterparts. These results speak to the health and well-being of primates in world-class zoos and sanctuaries, and they also suggest that physical activity may contribute less to total energy expenditure than is often thought.

"The completion of this non-invasive study of primate metabolism in zoos and sanctuaries demonstrates the depth of research potential for these settings. It also sheds light on the fact that zoo-housed primates are relatively active, with the same daily energy expenditures as wild primates," said coauthor Steve Ross, Director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. "Dynamic accredited zoo and sanctuary environments represent an alternative to traditional laboratory-based investigations and emphasize the importance of studying animals in more naturalistic conditions."

Results from this study hold intriguing implications for understanding health and longevity in humans. Linking the rate of growth, reproduction, and aging to daily energy expenditure may shed light on the processes by which our bodies develop and age. And unraveling the surprisingly complex relationship between physical activity and daily energy expenditure may improve our understanding of obesity and other metabolic diseases.

More detailed study of energy expenditure, activity, and aging among humans and apes is already underway. "Humans live longer than other apes, and tend to carry more body fat," said Pontzer. "Understanding how human metabolism compares to our closest relatives will help us understand how our bodies evolved, and how to keep them healthy."

Media Contacts:

Sharon Dewar
PR Director
Lincoln Park Zoo
Herman Pontzer
Associate Professor of Anthropology
Hunter College
About Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo, a historic Chicago landmark founded in 1868, is dedicated to connecting people with nature by providing a free, family-oriented wildlife experience. A leader in conservation science both globally and locally, the zoo exemplifies the highest quality animal care and educational outreach. The not-for-profit zoo, managed by The Lincoln Park Zoological Society, is a member-supported organization and one of the nation's only free, privately managed zoos. For more information, call 312 -742-2000 or visit

Sharon Dewar | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>