A NOVA special on the Turkish Family that walks on all fours

This maybe a little to late to announce, but I just flipped on my PBS channel here in Northern California, after my friend Andrew clued me in, and low and behold there’s a special on that group of siblings who walk on all fours. So far the NOVA special has outlined the origins of bipedalism and is now opening into a discussion on genetic mutation, genes that pattern and diversify the body. If you have a moment, turn it on! I’m sure there will be reruns.

I’ll do some liveblogging on it. The hypothesis, as was mentioned before, is that there’s some sort of genetic mutation that affected their brain development. Clearly they have some neurological disorders. The team comes across some interesting cultural clashes when beginning to study, such as the distaste to evolutionary theory and how these people will be compared against non-human animals. Also, there seems to be some disdain from one of the family members as she goes under the MRI for a brain scan.

The scientists find out the cerebellum, an ‘ancient’ part of the brain that controls movement, balance, and basic bodily functions are damaged in the bipedal siblings. The other quadrupedal siblings are now questioned, as is that hypothesis. They get Svante Paabo to throw some words in there too. After doing some primarily sample collection and testing, no genetic mutations in known brain development genes, such as ASPM were found.

The question whether culture had a role in their development is raised… and whether we can reverse any behavioral traits that the siblings were grown up with. I really appreciated the commentary that much of our behaviors are not genetic, and that our genes interact with environmental cues such as social and physical ones. The mother of the kids describes how the four siblings crawled at a normal age but exhibited a “bear crawl” different from a traditional crawl and never progressed out of the crawl. Could this be due to the mother’s lack of pressure to put her children on twos? Who knows. And at that point the analysis seemed to end.

Rather, some rehabilitation came into play, after the psychologist heading the study begins to become frustrated and overwhelmed with the lack of analysis. So the local physical therapist comes over, does some check ups, and installed some parallel bars and brought a walker for the impoverish family. The children began to use it and around 1 year later, they are progressing exponentially.

The documentary wraps up with a warm and fuzzy take on how humans are adaptable and can overcome some of the most debilitating developmental disorders. In general it was an excellent overview of this problem, and the multiple paths one can go to analyze and fix the problem. I appreciated the heavy emphasis on anthropology of movement and the genetic development of the brain.

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