Chimpanzee feet allow scientists a new grasp on human foot evolution

The human foot is distinguished from the feet of all other primates by the presence of a longitudinal arch, which spans numerous joints and bones of the midfoot region and is thought to stiffen the foot. This structure is thought to be a critical adaptation for bipedal locomotion, or walking on two legs, in part because this arch is absent from the feet of humans' closest living relatives, the African apes.

In contrast, African apes have long been thought to have highly mobile foot joints for climbing tree trunks and grasping branches, although few detailed quantitative studies have been carried out to confirm these beliefs.

But now, Nathan Thompson, Ph.D., assistant professor of Anatomy at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM), is one of the researchers questioning some long-held ideas about the function and evolution of the human foot by investigating how chimpanzees use their feet when walking on two legs.

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