Unlocking the secrets of the sweaty, naked ape: A genetic roadmap to the developmental origins, evolutionary history, and regenerative potential of human hair and sweat glands.
The skin and its major resident appendages, hair follicles and eccrine sweat glands, constitute the interface between humans and the environment and perform critical functions in human thermoregulation, barrier protection and sensory perception. As a result, evolutionary selection on human skin, hair, and sweat glands has produced some of the most derived human characteristics and underlies major phenotypic variation among modern human populations. However, the skin and its appendages do not fossilize. This means the sole means to access human skin’s rich evolutionary history is through a genetically rooted approach. With this in mind, I will present my lab’s recent advances in defining the genetic pathways controlling the development and pattering of hair and sweat glands, discuss how these were modified during evolution to generate humans’ hallmark lack of fur and unparalleled sweating capabilities, and the implications of this research for understanding our species’ evolutionary history and for improving human health.