Functional significance of genetic variation underlying limb bone diaphyseal structure

Ian J. Wallace, Kevin M. Middleton, Svetlana Lublinsky, Scott A. Kelly, Stefan Judex, Theodore Garland, Brigitte Demes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Limb bone diaphyseal structure is frequently used to infer hominin activity levels from skeletal remains, an approach based on the well-documented ability of bone to adjust to its loading environment during life. However, diaphyseal structure is also determined in part by genetic factors. This study investigates the possibility that genetic variation underlying diaphyseal structure is influenced by the activity levels of ancestral populations and might also have functional significance in an evolutionary context. We adopted an experimental evolution approach and tested for differences in femoral diaphyseal structure in 1-week-old mice from a line that had been artificially selected (45 generations) for high voluntary wheel running and non-selected controls. As adults, selected mice are significantly more active on wheels and in home cages, and have thicker diaphyses. Structural differences at 1 week can be assumed to primarily reflect the effects of selective breeding rather than direct mechanical stimuli, given that the onset of locomotion in mice is shortly after Day 7. We hypothesized that if genetically determined diaphyseal structure reflects the activity patterns of members of a lineage, then selected animals will have relatively larger diaphyseal dimensions at 1 week compared to controls. The results provide strong support for this hypothesis and suggest that limb bone cross sections may not always only reflect the activity levels of particular fossil individuals, but also convey an evolutionary signal providing information about hominin activity in the past.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-30
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Activity
  • Artificial selection
  • Cross-sectional geometry
  • Genes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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