July 1, 2010
Emerson Brown, NPR




In "The Human Edge," NPR News goes back in time to explore the evolutionary changes that transformed our ancestors into a new species – Homo sapiens – capable of inventing everything from soap to the Supreme Court. Humans share genes and body design with apes, but somewhere between six and eight million years ago evolution began tinkering with this basic tool kit. Many versions later, modern humans finally emerged. Scientists are now piecing together how, bit by bit, evolution brought about the physical, mental and cultural changes that made modern humans the most versatile – and arguably, the most powerful species on the planet. The 19-part series begins Monday, July 5, on Morning Edition and continues weekly on the show with occasional pieces also airing on All Things Considered.

Reported by NPR's Science Desk, "The Human Edge" focuses each week on a different aspect of the human body or mind to explore how it became an evolutionary game changer. All stories will be archived at NPR.org, which will also feature interactive visuals exploring how the different parts of the human body emerged piece-by-piece over millions of years, and how key changes to the muscles and bones of the modern human body allow it to do specific things chimpanzees – humans' closest relatives – cannot.

NPR science correspondent Joe Palca kicks off the series with two reports that reveal how much humans owe to other species that lived long before the first primate appeared. In the first story, Palca discovers what humans have in common with ancient fish and a glass of beer. The second story shows how studying modern stickleback fish is revealing how humans changed shape and skin colors after the last Ice Age.

Throughout July, NPR science correspondent Christopher Joyce takes audiences on a head-to-toe trip around the human body. He describes how modern feet, hands, teeth, shoulders and digestive systems evolved, and why the new versions gave human ancestors the edge over other species in the long, hard struggle for food and survival.

As the human body changed, the mind followed suit. Better meals led to bigger brains, and in August, "The Human Edge" continues with stories that explore what it is about the ways humans think, socialize and communicate that differ from other animals. In September, the series concludes with stories examining whether or not humans are still evolving.

“The Human Edge” is part of NPR’s continued commitment to extensive science coverage – from the latest research to analysis of breaking stories. In May, the Science Desk obtained an exclusive analysis of video of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to determine that it may be at least 10 times the size of the original official estimates. In addition to maintaining a dedicated science unit, NPR also offers ongoing coverage online at the science topic page of NPR.org, and with the "13.7: Cosmos and Culture" blog and health blog "Shots."