Why Is The Human Nose So Big?

“It takes a big nose who knows…” Morrissey once sang; but that song about plagiarism aside, why is the human nose so big? At least bigger relative to other primates.

It seems that the larger nose confers an evolutionary advantage. A key function of the nose and nasal cavity is to function as an “air conditioner” (as well as the more obvious mechanism for smelling something). Together, this physical structure make sure that the air we breathe in is made warm and humid enough to avoid damaging the delicate lining of the lungs.

The evolutionary function is not an argument accepted by all scientists. A recent paper by Takeshi Nishimura at Kyoto University, Japan, argues that the size of the nose developed by accident and it would function just as well if it was a different size or shape.

This more recent finding is based on Nishimura’s research which shows that the nasal passages of chimps and macaques condition inhaled air much more effectively than our nasal passages do. This, the Japanese scientist proposes, knocks the evolutionary advantage theory back to the drawing board. Nishimura does not dispute evolutionary change, he is challenging the accepted scientific driver for the evolution.

Here the researcher told New Scientist magazine:

“This indicates our protruding nose has few contributions to air-conditioning in the nose and nasal cavity.”

This is based on Nishimura’s study published in PLoS Computational Biology. The paper is titled “Impaired Air Conditioning within the Nasal Cavity in Flat-Faced Homo.”

It seems there is more mileage in human nose debate.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.