Humans Evolved to Break Down Alcohol from Eating Rotten Fruit
We weren't always able to break down alcohol. Researchers have been able to point to when we may have gained this unique genetic ability to consume and digest ethanol effectively.
Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker
Before we ever began brewing beers and fermenting grapes, our ancestors were laying down the genetic groundwork, building up our tolerance for alcohol. Chales Q. Choi of LiveScience has found a study that shows our ancient siblings gained the ability to break down ethanol through a genetic mutation 10 million years ago.
Lead study author Matthew Carrigan, a Paleogeneticist at Santa Fe College, explained the reason behind delving into this particular area of research:
"A lot of aspects about the modern human condition--everything from back pain to ingesting too much salt, sugar and fat--goes back to our evolutionary history. We wanted to understand more about the modern human condition with regards to ethanol."
Researchers found the trait didn't help our human ancestors win any drinking contests. But it did assist them in breaking down ethanol found in rotting, fermented fruit on the forest floor when they were starved for options.
The discovery was made by examining the digestive enzyme, ADH4, which is found in the tongues, throats, and stomachs of our living primate relatives, as well as ourselves. Researchers investigated the ADH4 genes of 28 different species of mammals and genes modeled on their ancestors in order to begin pinpointing the time of divergence. Carrigan and his team then used bacteria to read the genes and produce the ADH4 enzyme. Those samples were then tested to see how well the enzymes broke down alcohol.
From these tests, the team was able to estimate our ancestral gene mutation happened around 10 million years ago. Fortunately, the history and science match with mankind’s move to a more terrestrial lifestyle, where all those years ago our ancestors would dine on rotting fruit when there were no other options in sight.
Carrigan looks to place his future efforts in researching whether apes are willing to consume fermented fruits with varying levels of ethanol.
"We also want to look at other enzymes involved in alcohol metabolism, to see if they're co-evolving with ADH4 at the same time."
Read more at LiveScience
Photo Credit: unblessed_scalar/Flickr
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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