The developmental impacts of natural selection on human pelvic morphology

Sci Adv. 2022 Aug 19;8(33):eabq4884. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abq4884. Epub 2022 Aug 17.


Evolutionary responses to selection for bipedalism and childbirth have shaped the human pelvis, a structure that differs substantially from that in apes. Morphology related to these factors is present by birth, yet the developmental-genetic mechanisms governing pelvic shape remain largely unknown. Here, we pinpoint and characterize a key gestational window when human-specific pelvic morphology becomes recognizable, as the ilium and the entire pelvis acquire traits essential for human walking and birth. We next use functional genomics to molecularly characterize chondrocytes from different pelvic subelements during this window to reveal their developmental-genetic architectures. We then find notable evidence of ancient selection and genetic constraint on regulatory sequences involved in ilium expansion and growth, findings complemented by our phenotypic analyses showing that variation in iliac traits is reduced in humans compared to African apes. Our datasets provide important resources for musculoskeletal biology and begin to elucidate developmental mechanisms that shape human-specific morphology.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Hominidae* / anatomy & histology
  • Humans
  • Parturition
  • Pelvis* / anatomy & histology
  • Pregnancy
  • Selection, Genetic