Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

No need to shrink guts to have a larger brain

10.11.2011
The so-called expensive-tissue hypothesis, which suggests a trade-off between the size of the brain and the size of the digestive tract, has been challenged by researchers at the University of Zurich.

They have shown that brains in mammals have grown over the course of evolution without the digestive organs having to become smaller. The researchers have further demonstrated that the potential to store fat often goes hand in hand with relatively small brains – except in humans, who owe their increased energy intake and correspondingly large brain to communal child care, better diet and their ability to walk upright.

Brain tissue is a major consumer of energy in the body. If an animal species evolves a larger brain than its ancestors, the increased need for energy can be met by either obtaining additional sources of food or by a trade-off with other functions in the body. In humans, the brain is three times larger and thus requires a lot more energy than that of our closest relatives, the great apes. Until now, the generally accepted theory for this condition was that early humans were able to redirect energy to their brains thanks to a reduced digestive tract. Zurich primatologists, however, have now disproved this theory, demonstrating that mammals with relatively large brains actually tend to have a somewhat bigger digestive tract.

Ana Navarrete, the first author on the study published today in Nature, has studied hundreds of carcasses from zoos and museums. “The data set contains a hundred species, from the stag to the shrew,” explains the PhD student. The scientists involved in the study then compared the size of the brain with the fat-free body mass. Senior author Karin Isler stresses that, “it is extremely important to take an animal’s adipose deposits into consideration as, in some species, these constitute up to half of the body mass in autumn.” But even compared with fat-free body mass, the size of the brain does not correlate negatively with the mass of other organs.

More fat, smaller brain
Nevertheless, the storage of fat plays a key role in brain size evolution. The researchers discovered another rather surprising correlation: the more fat an animal species can store, the smaller its brain. Although adipose tissue itself does not use much energy, fat animals need a lot of energy to carry extra weight, especially when climbing or running. This energy is then lacking for potential brain expansion. “It seems that large adipose deposits often come at the expense of mental flexibility,” says Karin Isler. “We humans are an exception, along with whales and seals – probably because, like swimming, our bipedalism doesn’t require much more energy even when we are a bit heavier.”
Interplay of energetic factors
The rapid increase in brain size and the associated increase in energy intake began about two million years ago in the genus Homo. Based on their extensive studies of animals, the Zurich researchers propose a scenario in which several energetic factors are involved: “In order to stabilize the brain’s energy supply on a higher level, prehistoric man needed an all-year, high-quality source of food, such as underground tubers or meat. As they no longer climbed every day, they perfected the art of walking upright. Even more important, however, is communal child care,” says Karin Isler. Because ape mothers do not receive any help, they can only raise an offspring every five to eight years. Thanks to communal care for mothers and children, humans can afford both: a huge brain and more frequent offspring.
Literature:
Ana F. Navarrete, Carel P. van Schaik, and Karin Isler. Energetics and the evolution of human brain size. Nature. November 9, 2011. doi:10.1038/nature10629
Contact information:
Dr. Karin Isler
Anthropological Institute and Museum
University of Zurich
Phone: +41 44 635 54 01
E-mail: kisler@aim.uzh.ch

Nathalie Huber | Universität Zürich
Further information:
http://www.uzh.ch

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Algae-killing viruses spur nutrient recycling in oceans
18.07.2019 | Rutgers University

nachricht How are pollen distributed in the air?
18.07.2019 | Leibniz-Institut für Troposphärenforschung e. V.

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First-ever visualizations of electrical gating effects on electronic structure

Scientists have visualised the electronic structure in a microelectronic device for the first time, opening up opportunities for finely-tuned high performance electronic devices.

Physicists from the University of Warwick and the University of Washington have developed a technique to measure the energy and momentum of electrons in...

Im Focus: Megakaryocytes act as „bouncers“ restraining cell migration in the bone marrow

Scientists at the University Würzburg and University Hospital of Würzburg found that megakaryocytes act as “bouncers” and thus modulate bone marrow niche properties and cell migration dynamics. The study was published in July in the Journal “Haematologica”.

Hematopoiesis is the process of forming blood cells, which occurs predominantly in the bone marrow. The bone marrow produces all types of blood cells: red...

Im Focus: Artificial neural network resolves puzzles from condensed matter physics: Which is the perfect quantum theory?

For some phenomena in quantum many-body physics several competing theories exist. But which of them describes a quantum phenomenon best? A team of researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Harvard University in the United States has now successfully deployed artificial neural networks for image analysis of quantum systems.

Is that a dog or a cat? Such a classification is a prime example of machine learning: artificial neural networks can be trained to analyze images by looking...

Im Focus: Extremely hard yet metallically conductive: Bayreuth researchers develop novel material with high-tech prospects

An international research group led by scientists from the University of Bayreuth has produced a previously unknown material: Rhenium nitride pernitride. Thanks to combining properties that were previously considered incompatible, it looks set to become highly attractive for technological applications. Indeed, it is a super-hard metallic conductor that can withstand extremely high pressures like a diamond. A process now developed in Bayreuth opens up the possibility of producing rhenium nitride pernitride and other technologically interesting materials in sufficiently large quantity for their properties characterisation. The new findings are presented in "Nature Communications".

The possibility of finding a compound that was metallically conductive, super-hard, and ultra-incompressible was long considered unlikely in science. It was...

Im Focus: Modelling leads to the optimum size for platinum fuel cell catalysts: Activity of fuel cell catalysts doubled

An interdisciplinary research team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has built platinum nanoparticles for catalysis in fuel cells: The new size-optimized catalysts are twice as good as the best process commercially available today.

Fuel cells may well replace batteries as the power source for electric cars. They consume hydrogen, a gas which could be produced for example using surplus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on UV LED Technologies & Applications – ICULTA 2020 | Call for Abstracts

24.06.2019 | Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Genetic differences between strains of Epstein-Barr virus can alter its activity

18.07.2019 | Health and Medicine

Algae-killing viruses spur nutrient recycling in oceans

18.07.2019 | Life Sciences

Machine learning platform guides pancreatic cyst management in patients

18.07.2019 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>