Year of publication
- 2012 (2) (remove)
- Impact of carnivory on human development and evolution revealed by a new unifying model of weaning in mammals (2012)
- Our large brain, long life span and high fertility are key elements of human evolutionary success and are often thought to have evolved in interplay with tool use, carnivory and hunting. However, the specific impact of carnivory on human evolution, life history and development remains controversial. Here we show in quantitative terms that dietary profile is a key factor influencing time to weaning across a wide taxonomic range of mammals, including humans. In a model encompassing a total of 67 species and genera from 12 mammalian orders, adult brain mass and two dichotomous variables reflecting species differences regarding limb biomechanics and dietary profile, accounted for 75.5%, 10.3% and 3.4% of variance in time to weaning, respectively, together capturing 89.2% of total variance. Crucially, carnivory predicted the time point of early weaning in humans with remarkable precision, yielding a prediction error of less than 5% with a sample of forty-six human natural fertility societies as reference. Hence, carnivory appears to provide both a necessary and sufficient explanation as to why humans wean so much earlier than the great apes. While early weaning is regarded as essentially differentiating the genus Homo from the great apes, its timing seems to be determined by the same limited set of factors in humans as in mammals in general, despite some 90 million years of evolution. Our analysis emphasizes the high degree of similarity of relative time scales in mammalian development and life history across 67 genera from 12 mammalian orders and shows that the impact of carnivory on time to weaning in humans is quantifiable, and critical. Since early weaning yields shorter interbirth intervals and higher rates of reproduction, with profound effects on population dynamics, our findings highlight the emergence of carnivory as a process fundamentally determining human evolution.
- Expansion of CORE-SINEs in the genome of the Tasmanian devil (2012)
- Background: The genome of the carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii, Order: Dasyuromorphia), was sequenced in the hopes of finding a cure for or gaining a better understanding of the contagious devil facial tumor disease that is threatening the species’ survival. To better understand the Tasmanian devil genome, we screened it for transposable elements and investigated the dynamics of short interspersed element (SINE) retroposons. Results: The temporal history of Tasmanian devil SINEs, elucidated using a transposition in transposition analysis, indicates that WSINE1, a CORE-SINE present in around 200,000 copies, is the most recently active element. Moreover, we discovered a new subtype of WSINE1 (WSINE1b) that comprises at least 90% of all Tasmanian devil WSINE1s. The frequencies of WSINE1 subtypes differ in the genomes of two of the other Australian marsupial orders. A co-segregation analysis indicated that at least 66 subfamilies of WSINE1 evolved during the evolution of Dasyuromorphia. Using a substitution rate derived from WSINE1 insertions, the ages of the subfamilies were estimated and correlated with a newly established phylogeny of Dasyuromorphia. Phylogenetic analyses and divergence time estimates of mitochondrial genome data indicate a rapid radiation of the Tasmanian devil and the closest relative the quolls (Dasyurus) around 14 million years ago. Conclusions: The radiation and abundance of CORE-SINEs in marsupial genomes indicates that they may be a major player in the evolution of marsupials. It is evident that the early phases of evolution of the carnivorous marsupial order Dasyuromorphia was characterized by a burst of SINE activity. A correlation between a speciation event and a major burst of retroposon activity is for the first time shown in a marsupial genome.