This is Scientific American 60-Second Science. I'm Cynthia Graber.Got a minute?
The term pygmy usually refers to a few groups of short-statured people in equatorial rain forest regions in Africa.
The existence of distinct populations of such people presented scientists with the opportunity to study the mechanisms by which typical human growth patterns have become altered there.
And they discovered that two groups became small in two different ways.
The study is in the journal Nature Communications.
The researchers collected data on some 500 members of a West African ethnic group called the Baka.
They discovered that Baka infants have a similar size range to most other infants,
but have a low growth rate during their first two years, which produces a lasting effect.
This mechanism seems to be different from that of the East African groups called the Efe and Sua.
These peoples have slow prenatal growth, so that the infants are born smaller.
The researchers say that the Baka population appears to have split from the Efe and Sua some 20,000 years ago.
The two different systems for achieving small stature,which appears to be advantageous in the equatorial rainforest environment are thus an example of convergent evolution.
The researchers believe the findings say something important about human evolution and development in general:
"Homo sapiens could therefore be characterized by its high capacity for growth plasticity during infancy.
This capacity, which may be unique to our species, may have played a fundamental role in the biological adaptation that enabled its worldwide expansion and occupation of dissimilar environments within a short period after moving out of Africa."
Thanks for the minute, for Scientific American 60-Second Science. I'm Cynthia Graber.