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Bloodthirsty brains

New research challenges evolutionary development of the human brain

University of the Witwatersrand

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IMAGE: These are Hominin skull casts used to measure the supply of blood to the brain. view more

Credit: Photo credit: Roger Seymour

In a new research collaboration between the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Adelaide, previously held views on the evolutionary development of the human brain are being challenged. The findings of their studies, published today in the Royal Society Open Science*, unseats previous theories that the progression of human intelligence is simply related to the increase in size of the brain.

Their research found that while brain size has increased by about 350% over human evolution, blood flow to the brain increased by an amazing 600%. The increase in the supply of blood to the brain appears to be closely linked to the evolution of human intelligence where the human brain has evolved to become not only larger, but more energetically costly and blood thirsty than previously believed.

Wits Brain Function Research Group co-­author Dr Edward Snelling says: "Ancient fossil skulls from Africa reveal holes where the arteries supplying the brain passed through. The size of these holes show how blood flow increased from 3 million year old Australopithecus to modern humans."

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*The open-access paper citation: Seymour RS, Bosiocic V, Snelling EP. 2016. Fossil skulls reveal that blood flow rate to the brain increased faster than brain volume during human evolution. Royal Society Open Science 3: 160305.Release date: Aug 31, 2016.

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