Linnaeus (in1758) codified forever the obvious: humans and their hairy, look-alike relatives are kings of the hill, masters of the planet, and the big enchiladas. In his magnus opus of earthly organization, Systema Naturae, he dubbed us “Primates,” the Firsts. Whales, bees, felids, and cockroaches have been sneering, buzzing, and hissing from the sidelines ever since. Too bad. Although in our age of ubiquitous political correctness (we now get faulted for names such as “pygmy” chimpanzee, “killer” whale, and “lesser” panda; has anyone actually seen a protest from a lesser panda?) and magazine articles that routinely extol how every species from birds to insects can match us primates in everything from intelligence to family structure to sexual positions, let's face it, it's all just taxonomic envy. We are no. 1. As our kids would say: deal with it.
The fascination with the study of primates, of course, is that it is an examination of our very self in some way or other. That lure lurks somewhere imbedded in any and every assessment on the anatomy and function of our kin. That excitement and intrinsic curiosity about the “face in the mirror” can be found within the pages of this month's Special Issue, “From head to tail: New models and approaches in primate functional anatomy and biomechanics,” guest edited by Organ et al. (2010). This issue is a worthy heir to the legacy of outstanding primate studies that have appeared within The Anatomical Record. Indeed, many seminal studies by leaders in the quest to understand the comparative anatomy and biology of our brethren have graced the pages of this journal's history with a virtual “Who's Who” of primate anatomical researchers found within. For example, from the early 20th century onward, studies have appeared by: Streeter (1922) on the primate auricle, Todd (1922) comparing mammalian and primate vertebrae, Ashley-Montagu (1937) on primate genitalia, Schultz (1943) on the relative weight of the testes in primates, Sprague (1944) on the primate pharyngeal plexus, Wislocki (1943) on platyrrhine monkey placentas, Straus (1960) on the subarcutae fossa across primates, Montagna and coworkers on a variety of topics, including the skin of the gibbon (Parakkal et al.,1962) and cholinesterases in the potto's tongue (Hodosh and Montagna,1963), Lewis (1965) on the interosseous muscles of the primate hand, Dillon and Atkins (1970) on the anterior cerebellum in higher primates, Gasser and Wise (1970) on the trigeminal nerve in baboons, Halata and Munger (1980) on sensory innervation of the primate eyelid, Burr et al. (1982) on femoral mechanics in the lesser bushbaby and implications for leaping adaptations in primates, Acosta and Roy's (1987) work on fiber type composition in hindlimb muscles of the cynomolgus monkey, Wilson and Hendrickx (1990) study on notochord development in rhesus macaque embryos, van der Schoot's (1996) study on the ligamentum teres hepatis in primates, and Kim et al. (1997) work on histochemical analysis on the monkey striate cortex.
The last decade has seen an enormous revitalization of The Anatomical Record—particularly in its focus on hypothesis-driven research and emphasis on cutting-edge visualization and new technologies—and this has brought to our pages a new generation of primate focused research. This has included studies by: Ravosa et al. (2000) on primate circumorbialtal form, Fisher (2000) on the primate appendix, McCarthy and Lieberman (2001) on the posterior maxillary plane in primates, many studies from Smith et al. on a variety of topics, including a reappraisal of the histology of vomeronasal organ in catarrhines (Smith et al.,2001), comparison of the organ in humans and chimpanzees (Smith et al.,2002), study of the nasolacrimal duct in primates (Shimp et al.,2003), assessment of maxillary sinus shape in callitrichids (Smith et al.,2005), and the nasal fossa of mouse and dwarf lemurs (Smith and Rossie,2008). Frost et al. (2003) detailed assessment of papionin cranial form and systematics, Bush, Simons, and Allman's assessments of visual systems in living and extinct primates (Bush and Allman,2004; Bush et al.,2004), Preuschoft and Witzel's (2005) study on the evolution of cranial form in early primates, Kaas et al. (2006) study on the cortical representation of the teeth and tongue in primates, Voisin's (2006) study of the primate clavicle, Fajardo et al. (2007) examination of femoral neck architecture and relationships to locomotor modes in primates, Organ et al. (2009) detailed study of the anatomy and function of the primate tail, and Perkins et al. (2009) study on the neuroanatomy of primate gaze control. In addition to the above, was also a groundbreaking Special Issue on the “Evolution of the Sensory Systems in Primates” in 2004 (see Dominy et al.,2004; Laitman,2004).
This month's special issue proudly continues the robust tradition of publishing the best cutting-edge science on the anatomy of our closest relatives. From examination of elusive fossil ancestors to a host of our living monkey and ape relatives, research on primates is alive and well and swinging through the pages of The Anatomical Record. To witness, first-hand, the innovative investigations of contributing authors to this Special Issue, mark your calendar for the four symposia sponsored by The Anatomical Record as a Mini-meeting that will be presented on Monday and Tuesday, April 26 and 27, at the Experimental Biology 2010 conference in Anaheim, CA.