A Step in the Quadrupedal Direction, part II
The story about the five siblings in Turkey who use quadrupedal locomotion was pretty slow to gain attention, but this Friday (3/17/06) there is supposed to be a BBC documentary about the family and perhaps the accusations of scientific misconduct issues that surround the research. BBC news:
The four sisters and one brother could yield clues to why our ancestors made the transition from four-legged to two-legged animals, says a UK expert.
But Professor Nicholas Humphrey rejects the idea that there is a "gene" for bipedalism, or upright walking.
The siblings live with their parents and five other brothers and sisters. They were born with what looks like a form of brain damage.
MRI scans seem to show that they have a form of cerebellar ataxia, which affects balance and coordination.
However, scientists are divided on what caused them to revert to quadrupedalism (walking on all fours).
The method of locomotion used by the Turkish children and by our closest relatives chimpanzees and gorillas, differs in a crucial way, said Professor Humphrey.
I understand that almost nothing is controlled by just one single gene; why would bipedal locomotion be any different? It seems more likely that, if a mutation was involved, it caused the brain damage (cerebral ataxia) and then the siblings learned a gait that works for them. It doesn't necessarily imply anything about our ancestors. But a "bipedal gene" seems utterly ridiculous to me.
I first read the story on World Science, which turns out not to be a tabloid (apologies for the implication). They've been great about posting updates on both the science and the ethical controversy. Their original report gives a link to a video of the quadrupedal humans.