A Million Years of Plant Evolution in Your Morning Coffee: Scientists Unravel Caffeine's Mysteries
Many take caffeine from tea or mate, an herbal drink popular in South America. But the drug, unlike so many others, didn't come from a chemistry lab. It came from millions of years of plant evolution.
Caffeine is by far the most popular psychoactive drug in the world: 26,000 cups of coffee are consumed on the planet every second; many take caffeine from tea or mate, an herbal drink popular in South America. But the drug, unlike so many others, didn't come from a chemistry lab. It came from millions of years of plant evolution.
Caffeine began in plants as an inactive enzyme called xanthosine but after certain genetic mutations occurred in the course of evolutionary change, the enzyme became caffeine. Interestingly, this genetic process occurred in tea leaves and cocoa beans to produce the same result. Scientists call the phenomenon convergent evolution, i.e. when the same complex trait is produced by different processes.
"Birds, for example, evolved wings when their finger bones fused together and sprouted feathers more than 150 million years ago. Bats, on the other hand, evolved wings about 60 million years ago when their fingers stretched out and became covered in membranes.When convergent evolution produces the same complex trait more than once, it’s usually a sign of a powerfully useful adaptation."
In high doses, caffeine makes soil less fertile as coffee leaves fall to the ground, eliminating competition from other plants. It can also poison animals that would eat it. But in small doses, nectar containing caffeine can excite insects to transport the plant's pollen, and the human fascination with caffeine is the plant's most brilliant success.
So happy morning coffee (or tea or mate), everyone. Despite researchers' best attempts to find the negative side effects of coffee, NYU nutrition expert Marion Nestle happily reports we expertly metabolize caffeine:
Read more at the New York Times
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Could this be the long-awaited solution to economic inequality?
Under capitalism, the argument goes, it's every man for himself. Through the relentless pursuit of self-interest, everyone benefits, as if an invisible hand were guiding each of us toward the common good. Everyone should accordingly try to get as much as they can, not only for their goods but also for their labour. Whatever the market price is is, in turn, what the buyer should pay. Just like the idea that there should be a minimum wage, the idea that there should be a maximum wage seems to undermine the very freedom that the free market is supposed to guarantee.
Humans evolved to live in the cold through a number of environmental and genetic factors.
- According to some relatively new research, many of our early human cousins preceded Homo sapien migrations north by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.
- Cross-breeding with other ancient hominids gave some subsets of human population the genes to contend and thrive in colder and harsher climates.
- Behavioral and dietary changes also helped humans adapt to cold climates.
It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back
- In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
- Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
- The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points
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