How a broken gene may have given us the ability to become ‘marathoners’

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A new study in mice pinpoints how a stretch of DNA likely turned our ancestors into marathoners, giving us the endurance to conquer territory, evade predators, and eventually dominate the planet.

Human ancestors first distinguished themselves from other primates by their unusual way of hunting prey. Instead of depending on a quick spurt of energy—like a cheetah—they simply outlasted antelopes and other escaping animals, chasing them until they were too exhausted to keep running.

Ajit Varki, a physician-scientist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and colleagues unearthed one of the first genetic differences between humans and chimps: a gene called CMP-Neu5Ac Hydroxylase (CMAH). Other primates have this gene, which helps build a sugar molecule called sialic acid that sits on cell surfaces. But humans have a broken version of CMAH, so they don’t make this sugar.

Related article:  Marathon gene? Ancient CMAH mutation may have made us better runners

In the new study, Varki’s team explored whether CMAH has any impact on muscles and running ability, in part because mice bred with a muscular dystrophy–like syndrome get worse when they don’t have this gene.

After training, the mice with the human version of the CMAH gene ran 12% faster and 20% longer than the other mice, the team reports [September 11] in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Read full, original post: This broken gene may have turned our ancestors into marathoners—and helped humans conquer the world

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