ITHACA, N.Y., July 27 (UPI) — A body part that doesn’t normally get much attention — the human neck — played a major role in the evolution of the human brain, U.S. scientists believe.
Neuroscientists at Cornell University and New York University say evolution from fish with fins near their heads into land-dwelling creatures with forelimbs down on the torso was an important step, a Cornell release said Tuesday.
As the torso moved away from the head and was given a neck, the location of neurons controlling the forelimbs moved from the brain into the spinal cord.
The freedom of movement this configuration gave both the head and the forelimbs provided an evolutionary advantage, scientists say.
“A neck allowed for improved movement and dexterity in terrestrial and aerial environments,” Andrew Bass, Cornell professor of neurobiology and behavior, said.
“This innovation in biomechanics evolved hand-in-hand with changes in how the nervous system controls our limbs.”
This unexpected level of evolutionary plasticity accounts for the incredible range of forelimb abilities, Bass said, from their use in flight by birds to swimming by whales and dolphins and playing piano for humans.
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