An Analysis of the Etiological and Phenotypic Characteristics of Down Syndrome Suggests that it may Represent an Adaptive Response to Severe Maternal Deprivation



This paper will suggest that the Down syndrome phenotype would have been well suited, physiologically, for a deprived environment and that it may represent a predictive, adaptive response to severe maternal deprivation. A trisomy of the 21st chromosome, prior to, or at conception is responsible for Down syndrome and is known to increase in incidence with advanced maternal age. One out of 11 mothers over the age of 50 conceives a Down syndrome baby, compared to one in one thousand at age 30. This article emphasizes that an older mother is more likely to die before she is able to provide the parental investment necessary to produce an ecologically self-sufficient offspring.

Prolonged maternal investment is known to be essential for hunter-gatherers to master the skill intensive food procurement techniques that they will need in order to become independent of their mothers. Because Down syndrome individuals are much more likely to be born to older mothers, they must have been routinely deprived of maternal investment in the human environment of evolutionary adaptedness. This consistent paring of maternal deprivation to trisomy 21 conceptions, over time, may have caused natural selection to favor genes responsible for the energy conserving traits seen in modern day Down syndrome.

These traits include muscle hypotonia, decreased cerebral metabolism, decreased hippocampal volume, a strong propensity for obesity and growth hormone and thyroid hormone paucity. Such a “thrifty phenotype” may have allowed Down syndrome individuals to become independent of their mothers at a far earlier age and allowed them to forgo the skill intensive ecological niche that non-trisomic humans are phenotypically suited for in order to take up a less cognitively and physically rigorous one.