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Nature. 2016 May 19;533(7603):390-2. doi: 10.1038/nature17654. Epub 2016 May 4.

Metabolic acceleration and the evolution of human brain size and life history.

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Department of Anthropology, Hunter College. 695 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10065, USA.
New York Consortium for Evolutionary Primatology, New York, New York 10065, USA.
Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, Lincoln Park Zoo. Chicago, Illinois 60614, USA.
School of Anthropology, University of Arizona, 1099 E South Campus Drive, Tucson, Arizona 85716, USA.
Department of Sociology &Anthropology, University of Rhode Island, 45 Upper College Rd, Kingston, Rhode Island 02881, USA.
Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA.
Public Health Sciences, Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago, 2160 South First Avenue, Maywood, Illinois 60153, USA.
Nutritional Sciences, Biotechnology Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 425 Henry Mall, Madison, Wisconsin 53705, USA.
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana.
Institute of Social &Preventive Medicine, Lausanne University Hospital, Rue de la Corniche 10, 1010 Lausanne, Switzerland.
Ministry of Health, PO Box 52, Victoria, Mahé, Seychelles.
UWI Solutions for Developing Countries, The University of the West Indies, 25 West Road, UWI Mona Campus, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, University of Cape Town, PO Box 115, Newlands 7725, Cape Town, South Africa.
Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico. Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131, USA.
Indianapolis Zoo, 1200 W Washington Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46222, USA.
Department of Anthropology and Center for Integrated Study of Animal Behavior, Indiana University, 701 E Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA.
Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, George Mason University, 4400 University Dr., Fairfax, Virginia 22030, USA.


Humans are distinguished from the other living apes in having larger brains and an unusual life history that combines high reproductive output with slow childhood growth and exceptional longevity. This suite of derived traits suggests major changes in energy expenditure and allocation in the human lineage, but direct measures of human and ape metabolism are needed to compare evolved energy strategies among hominoids. Here we used doubly labelled water measurements of total energy expenditure (TEE; kcal day(-1)) in humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans to test the hypothesis that the human lineage has experienced an acceleration in metabolic rate, providing energy for larger brains and faster reproduction without sacrificing maintenance and longevity. In multivariate regressions including body size and physical activity, human TEE exceeded that of chimpanzees and bonobos, gorillas and orangutans by approximately 400, 635 and 820 kcal day(-1), respectively, readily accommodating the cost of humans' greater brain size and reproductive output. Much of the increase in TEE is attributable to humans' greater basal metabolic rate (kcal day(-1)), indicating increased organ metabolic activity. Humans also had the greatest body fat percentage. An increased metabolic rate, along with changes in energy allocation, was crucial in the evolution of human brain size and life history.

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