Inside the extraordinary family where they walk on all fours

Poppy Bilderbeck

Published 
| Last updated 

Inside the extraordinary family where they walk on all fours

Featured Image Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/YouTube

A Turkish family who were discovered walking on all fours have raised 'terribly important' questions about evolution.

Groups of scientists across the world were left baffled when it was discovered that a family living in Turkey had children between the ages of 18 and 34 who walked on all fours rather than two legs.

The family were first discovered via a medical paper written by Turkish scientists.

Professor Nicholas Humphrey, an evolutionary psychologist from the London School of Economics, decided to look into the family further and uncover the potential reasons as to why some of the children were quadrupeds.

Prof Humphrey discovered that out of the 18 children born into the Ulas family, 12 were born healthy but six had a 'unique disability'.

One son, named Gulen, aged 28, was particularly affected by the condition.

The Ulas family were first discovered after being written about in a paper by a group of Turkish scientists. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube
The Ulas family were first discovered after being written about in a paper by a group of Turkish scientists. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube

"I never expected that even under the most extraordinary scientific fantasy that modern human beings could return to an animal state.

"The thing which marks us off from the rest of the animal world is the fact that we're the species which walks on two legs and olds out heads high in the air [...] of course it's language and all other sorts of things too, but it's terribly important to our sense of ourselves as being different from others in the animal kingdom. These people cross that boundary," Prof Humphrey told 60 Minutes Australia.

Six out of 18 of the children in the Ulas family were found to have the condition. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube
Six out of 18 of the children in the Ulas family were found to have the condition. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube

Prof Humphrey was invited to visit the family, having been told the affected children's condition appeared as if the evolutionary clock had been 'turn[ed] back'.

"In fact others in the scientific community took up that line and said yes this here for the world is a genetic problem which has undone of the last three million years of evolution and returned them to a primitive stage," he said.

However, while the Turkish scientists who first published the paper believed a sort of 'devolution' had taken place, Prof Humphreys wanted to explore other options, saying on a BBC Two documentary he thought the description of the family as 'devolution' was 'deeply insulting' and 'scientifically irresponsible'.

Professor Humphrey said the description of the family as having undergone 'devolution' was 'insulting'. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube
Professor Humphrey said the description of the family as having undergone 'devolution' was 'insulting'. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube

Neurological tests on the affected children's brains showed up 'something very striking' – where the 'middle of the cerebellum [the vermis] [appeared] shrunk'.

However, other cases of people with decreased or even no cerebellum present – where the patient could still walk – meant the mystery wasn't over just yet.

Fossil experts in New York also argued over how the children walk, specifically analysing why they keep their fingers off the ground, unlike primates, to keep them more protected, using the palms of their hand to move along instead.

The genetics of the family and scans of the affected children's brains were used to try and solve the mystery of why they walked on all fours. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube
The genetics of the family and scans of the affected children's brains were used to try and solve the mystery of why they walked on all fours. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube

Scientists at Liverpool University in the UK realised the affected children's skeletons are different to humans and more like monkeys and subsequently reflected 'how ancestors behaved'.

"I think it's possible that what we are seeing in this family is something that does correspond to a time when we didn't walk like chimpanzees but was an important step between coming down from the trees and becoming fully bipedal," Prof Humphrey told the BBC.

The bone structures of the affected children were also analysed by scientists. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube
The bone structures of the affected children were also analysed by scientists. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube

However, Prof Humphrey resolved that it could well be how the children grew up which played a larger part in the way they walk on fours.

He suggested a lack of encouragement given to the children to begin standing after the age of nine months when they should have been finishing crawling could have affected their development and prevented them from making the next step up to walking on two feet.

The affected children were subsequently appointed a physiotherapist, given walking frames and parallel bars in their garden to help them try and train themselves to walk on two feet.

While Prof Humphrey noted the discovery of the family's condition acts as a 'major phenomena' he also reflected on it as a 'major tragic human story' – their unusual method of walking attributed to 'a combination of unusual factors – genetic, physiological, psychological and social'.

With the help of a physiotherapist, a walking frame and parallel bars, all of the six children who had previously walked on all fours were soon able to walk on two legs. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube
With the help of a physiotherapist, a walking frame and parallel bars, all of the six children who had previously walked on all fours were soon able to walk on two legs. Credit: 60 Minutes Australia/ YouTube

A few months later, on his return to visit the family, Professor Humphrey found that all of the children appeared to be walking on two legs, even Gulen.

The father of the Ulas family reflected on his children's development as being a 'beauty, a big thing, a huge deal'.

If you've been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact Scope via their website, via email, or on 0808 800 3333. The line is open 9am-6pm Monday to Fridays, and 10am-6pm Saturdays and Sundays 

Topics: News, Science, Health, World News

Poppy Bilderbeck
More like this

Chosen for YouChosen for You

News

Mysterious black hole has been found pointing directly at Earth blasting light at us

9 hours ago

Most Read StoriesMost Read

Fleetwood Mac vocalist Christine McVie has died aged 79

10 hours ago