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Scientists discover the reason why humans no longer have long tails

By T.K. Randall
March 3, 2024 · Comment icon 1 comment
Ape with a long tail climbing a tree.
Our ancestors once had tails to help them balance in the trees. Image Credit: Bing AI / Dall-E 3
It might be hard to imagine, but many millions of years ago, our ancestors had long tails just like monkeys do today.
Having a long tail can be a useful thing - especially if you spend a lot of your time climbing trees, balancing on branches or swinging through the canopy, which is why most tree-dwelling mammals have them.

The same was once true of humans (or at least our distant ancestors 25 million years ago).

Remarkably, while we have obviously lost our long monkey-like tails, modern humans do still have some semblance of a tail in the form of the coccyx (more commonly referred to as the tailbone).

Our tail is most evident for a period of around four weeks while we are still an embryo and while it no longer helps us balance, it does serve as an attachment point for muscles at the base of the spine.
Exactly which genetic mutation was responsible for losing our original tail millions of years ago has long remained something of a scientific mystery, but now, a new study has finally identified the culprit - a DNA mutation located in the gene TBXT which is typically associated with tail length in mammals.

"Mutations like this have often been thought to be of limited consequence in evolution," evolutionary biologist Kirk Lohmueller told Live Science.

"Here the authors show that such a mutation has had a profound impact on our species."

"It is exciting to think of how many other complex mutations like this could have generated important traits throughout human evolution."

Source: Live Science | Comments (1)

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