Barth W. Wright, PhD, associate professor, Department of Anatomy, at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, along with a team of international researchers, recently co-authored the study “Mechanical evidence that Australopithecus sediba was limited in its ability to eat hard foods.” The findings were published Feb. 8 in Nature Communications, a journal that features high-quality research from all areas of the natural sciences.
Australopithecus sediba was a diminutive pre-human species that lived approximately two million years ago in southern Africa. According to the study, this early-human ancestor was unable to bite powerfully due to its jaw and tooth structure, limiting its ability to exist on a steady diet of hard foods without dislocating the jaw. To biomechanically test their findings, Dr. Wright and his fellow researchers used a computer-based model of an A. sediba skull based on a fossil skull recovered in 2008 from South Africa.
“My fellow researchers and I are extremely proud to share our findings,” said Dr. Wright. “The answers we uncovered regarding the jaw structure of A. sediba are eye-opening. They show us there is much to learn regarding this species and its relation to early humans. I look forward to gaining additional insights through future research.”
While the study did not address humans’ evolutionary relationship to this specific species, the findings support evidence that such dietary changes may have impacted early human development, he explained.
“This work by Dr. Wright and the team of international researchers is truly impressive and represents an important contribution toward our understanding of early humans,” said Jeffrey Joyce, PhD, vice president of KCU’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. “Research continues to be a primary focus at KCU, and these kinds of key discoveries by Dr. Wright and other faculty members further position our University as a leader in academic research.”
Read the full study in Nature Communications.
Additional study co-authors include Stefano Benazzi, PhD, from the University of Bologna and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology; Gerhard W. Weber, PhD, from the University of Vienna; Mark A. Spencer, PhD, from South Mountain Community College; Keely B. Carlson, PhD, from Texas A&M University; Kieran P. McNulty, PhD, from the University of Minnesota; Paul C. Dechow, PhD, Qian Wang, PhD, and Leslie C. Pryor, PhD, from the Baylor College of Dentistry at Texas A&M University; Ian R. Grosse, PhD, from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Callum F. Ross, PhD, from the University of Chicago; Brian G. Richmond, PhD, from the American Museum of Natural History; Barth W. Wright, PhD, from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences; Craig Byron, PhD, from Mercer University; Kelli Tamvada, PhD, from The Sage Colleges and formerly from the University at Albany; and Michael A. Berthaume, PhD, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.