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How many forms can an ape take?

New research on the form of ape and human hands is helping to rewrite understanding of the many and varied ways evolution constructs life, writes Darren Curnoe.

Research on primate hands challenges a long-held assumption that living chimpanzees are a lot like our earliest human ancestors (iStockphoto: Fotoamator)

Research on primate hands challenges a long-held assumption that living chimpanzees are a lot like our earliest human ancestors (iStockphoto: Fotoamator)

The study of form has been central to biology ever since people have contemplated how life came to exist and how individual species or groups of them are related to one another.

When biologists speak of ‘form’ they mean the shape, appearance or structure an organism takes — be it whole organism or only a constituent part such as a bodily system, organ, microscopic structure or even a molecule.

A famous example from the 20th century is the form of the DNA molecule, which we have known to be a double helix since Watson and Crick published their model in 1953.

Palaeontologists like me are especially interested in form because it gives us clues about the diversity of past life and deep insights into the history and mechanisms of evolution.

Most organisms seem to be well designed for their ecological circumstances, an observation that is as old as biology itself.

Why this is the case and how well the fit between organism and environment actually is remain fundamental questions still in evolutionary science today.

Developing views about form

Interest in form goes back to the Ancient Greeks who were the first people to formally observe the great variety of life and explain how it came into being.

In his work Historia Animalium (The History of the Animals), Aristotle (384-322 BC) produced one of the first scholarly works devoted to the subject of comparative anatomy, or the comparison form among animals. READ MORE

Let’s have some bite on a little thrill from the movie trailer : Dawn of the planet of the apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes | Official Trailer: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.

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