From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Toy dogs often display an extreme level of neoteny, resembling not just infant, but fetal wolves.[1]

Neoteny (IPA: /niːˈɒtɨniː/), also called juvenilization, is the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles (a kind of pedomorphosis), and is a subject studied in the field of developmental biology. In neoteny, the physiological (or somatic) development of an animal or organism is slowed or delayed (alternatively, seen as a dilation of biological time). Ultimately this process results in the retention, in the adults of a species, of juvenile physical characteristics well into maturity. The English word neoteny is borrowed from the German Neotenie, the latter constructed from the Greek νέος (young) and τείνειν (tend to). The standard adjectival form is "neotenous",[citation needed] although "neotenic" is often used.

In invertebrate biology, neoteny is most easily identified when sexually mature, completely viable juveniles or larvae are found.

Specific individual traits that differ in descendant organisms, when compared to ancestors, are sometimes called neotenies; humans, for example, appear to have several neotenies in comparison to chimpanzees.


[edit] In evolution

Neoteny plays a role in evolution, as a means by which, over generations, a species can undergo a significant physical change. In such cases, a species’ neotenous form becomes its “normal” mature form, no longer dependent upon environmental triggers to inhibit maturity. The mechanism for this could be a mutation in or interactions between genes involved in maturation, changing their function to impede this process.

Neoteny is not the only contributing factor affecting maturation in species that may have undergone neotenous changes over the course of their evolution, and its actual involvement in the following examples is not well understood:

  • flightless birds—physical proportions resemble those of the chicks of flighted birds;
  • humans—with traits such as sparse body hair and enlarged heads reminiscent of baby primates. Lactose tolerance in adults is a form of neoteny now considered normal in certain populations that traditionally consume cow's milk while most other humans are lactose intolerant as adults. It corresponds to a mutation that permits the digestion of lactose beyond the lactation period.
  • pets, such as dogs—which share many physical features with the immature wolf (these same traits were found during the development of the tame silver fox). Such puppy-like traits may have made early dogs seem "cute" and less threatening than wolves, leading to both natural and artificial selection of such dogs.

[edit] In humans

Neoteny in humans can be seen in different aspects. It can be compared with other great ape species, between the sexes and between individuals. Some examples include:

  • the flatness of the human face compared to other primates
  • late arrival of the teeth

[edit] Compared to other species

There is controversy over whether adult humans exhibit certain neotenous features, or juvenile characteristics, that are not evidenced in other great ape species. Stephen Jay Gould was an advocate of the view that humans are a neotenous species of chimpanzee. The argument is that juvenile chimpanzees have an almost-identical bone structure to humans, and that the chimpanzee’s ability to learn seems to be cut off upon reaching maturity.

Another theory suggests that humans' neotenous characteristics were an evolutionary strategy that enabled Cro-Magnons (Homo sapiens) to gain predominance over H. neanderthalensis (and possibly H. erectus and H. heidelbergensis) by appealing to these species' nurturing instincts through paedomorphic cuteness to avoid territorial aggression. Noted anthropologist Björn Kurtén explores this concept in his paleofictional Dance of the Tiger (1980).

[edit] Between sexes

While neoteny is not necessarily a physical state experienced by humans, paedomorphic characteristics in women are widely acknowledged as desirable by men. For instance, vellus hair is a juvenile characteristic. However, while men develop longer, coarser, thicker, and darker terminal hair through sexual differentiation, women do not, leaving their vellus hair visible.

Desmond Morris discusses the importance of neoteny in human biology in The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo.

[edit] Between individuals

Paedomorphic variations exist not only between the sexes, but also between ethnic groups[citation needed] and even between individuals.

Bruce Charlton suggests that there may be such a thing as "psychological neoteny", with cultural causes: "In a psychological sense, some contemporary individuals never actually become adults."[2] Delayed maturity might be a consequence of later parenthood, itself caused by more prolonged formal education.[3]

Similarly, Juliet Schor suggests in Born to Buy that people raised in a modern consumer culture never attain an adult level of self-sufficiency. These "infantilized adults" remain dependent on mass-produced products in the same way that a child is dependent upon parents.

[edit] In other animals

One example of a neotenic trait in vertebrates is the salamander species axolotl, which usually remains fully aquatic as it matures. Other salamanders, such as the widespread tiger salamander of North America, may retain the external gills usually only present in immature individuals, as adults in some populations in marginal habitats. The amphibian Rough-skinned Newt exhibits neoteny in numerous populations, with noted preference in certain geographic areas; moreover, the phenomenon of gill retention in this newt manifests gradations of neoteny in some populations, such that partial gill retention is seen in some individuals.[4]

[edit] Progenesis

Neoteny and progenesis are both mechanisms that result in paedomorphosis. Neoteny delays physiological, but not sexual, maturity. Comparatively, progenesis speeds up sexual, but not physiological, maturity. Progenetic organisms achieve sexual maturity in their juvenile state. This is most commonly found among certain amphibians and insects.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Budiansky, Stephen (1999). The Covenant of the Wild: Why animals chose domestication. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300079931. 
  2. ^ See Charlton BG, The rise of the boy-genius: psychological neoteny, science and modern life. Medical Hypotheses. 2006; 67: 679–81. The article is also discussed by Matthew Hutson in The Peter Pan-demic, Psychology Today magazine, Nov/Dec 2006, and by Clay Risen in Psychological Neoteny, The New York Times Magazine, December 10, 2006.
  3. ^ Charlton BG, Psychological neoteny and higher education: Associations with delayed parenthood Medical Hypotheses. 2007; 69: 237–40.
  4. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) Rough-skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa), Globaltwitcher, ed. N. Stromberg [1]

[edit] External links

Personal tools