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Sweat Glands Project

Funding for this research provided by:






Project Background

Human eccrine sweat gland density is unique among mammals and primates and enables a remarkable capacity to cool.  This sweating ability is intricately linked with major shifts in human evolution, including walking on two legs, bigger brains, near-naked skin, and high levels of physical activity.  Surprisingly, we know little about the evolution and diversity of this unique trait. As humans dispersed out of Africa and into novel habitats, sweat gland biology likely changed to suit local environmental conditions.  This diversity could be the result of evolutionary processes or environmental effects that occur before adulthood.  Indeed, previous researchers proposed that a hot early childhood climate could elicit greater gland activation, resulting in relatively high active sweat gland density in adulthood.  This idea remains largely untested.  Similarly, the physiological consequences of sweat gland density are unknown.  Characterizing diversity in modern human sweat gland density, and assessing the relationship of this measure to heat dissipation and water loss, will elucidate the evolutionary history of this important human trait.  

Research Questions:

1. Does childhood climate explain variation in adult active eccrine gland density?

2. Does geographic ancestry explain variation in active eccrine gland density?

3. What is the relationship between active sweat gland density and ability to dissipate metabolic heat?

Data were collected in 2019-2020 and publications are forthcoming as of Fall 2021.  


Collaborators and Advisors

Dr. Jason Kamilar, Anthropology, University of Massachusetts

Dr. Daniel Lieberman, Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Dr. Brigitte Holt, Anthropology, University of Massachusetts

Dr. Alex Gerson, Biology, University of Massachusetts

Dr. Michael Busa, Director, UMass Human Testing Center

Reseach Assistants

Jennifer Marino, Kalina Bergmann (2019-present)

Serena Sarage (2017-2018)

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