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September 13 2012

Long-held Theory on Human Bipedalism and Gestation Challenged


New research by a University of Rhode Island professor suggests that the length of human pregnancy is limited primarily by a mother's metabolism, not the size of the birth canal. The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of August 27, challenges the long-held notion of an evolutionary trade-off between childbirth and a pelvis adapted for walking upright.

Two traits that set humans apart from other primatesóbig brains and the ability to walk uprightócould be at odds when it comes to childbirth. Big brains and the big heads that encase them are hard to push through the human birth canal, but a wider pelvis might compromise bipedal walking. Scientists have long posited that nature's solution to this problem, which is known as the "obstetric dilemma," was to shorten the duration of gestation so that babies are born before their heads get too big. As a result, human babies are relatively helpless and seemingly underdeveloped in terms of motor and cognitive ability compared to other primates.

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