Research finds that humans have a higher metabolic rate when compared to primates such as chimps, gorillas and orangutans, which has enabled them to evolve and fuel larger brains.
Human brains are bigger and more developed than those of their closest living relatives. They reproduce more often and live longer. New research has found that humans have a higher metabolism rate too, which has enabled them to evolve larger brains.
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Higher metabolism gives humans enough energy to fuel larger brains and also support them having more offspring and a longer lifespan.
In the study, researchers measured the metabolic rates of humans and compared them to primates like chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. The study took into account the total energy expenditure including calories burned by the body’s metabolism both at rest and during physical activity.
A total 141 humans and 57 animals were involved in the study and tracked for 7 to 10 days. Researchers found that humans burned calories much faster than other primates. When measurements were adjusted for body size, it turned out that human on daily basis burn 400 more calories than chimps and bonobos, 635 more calories than gorillas and 820 more calories than orangutans, providing energy for larger brains and faster reproduction without comprising maintenance and longevity.
Body fat was remarkably higher in humans and it was only humans who showed greater gender difference in terms of body fat – 22.9% in men and 41.7% in women.
Faster metabolism is the evolutionary key that sets humans apart from primates and makes them what they are today.
“It’s really surprising. We think of daily energy expenditure as a function of how active we are, but it’s more about a species’ evolutionary history than its lifestyle.” Herman Pontzer, an anthropologist at Hunter College in New York told The Atlantic.
The findings help scientists understand the unique features of human compared to primates and mammals and could be a piece of human evolution puzzle.
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“Much of the increase in TEE (total energy expenditure) is attributable to human’s greater basal metabolic rate, indicating increased organ metabolic activity. An increased metabolic rate, along with change in energy allocation, was crucial in the evolution of human brain size and life history.” Study concludes.