“Hobbits” May Have Been Genetic Mutants

A rare disease characterized by small brain and body size but near normal intelligence is caused by mutations in a gene coding for the protein pericentrin, researchers have found.

The scientists speculate that the condition may explain the tiny, hobbitlike people that occupied a remote, Indonesian island about 18,000 years ago–adding fuel to the debate over whether the unusual creatures were a new species or just diseased modern humans.