Inside the extraordinary family where they walk on all fours
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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.
"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.
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'.
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.
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.
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'.
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'.
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