Milk: Quiet Evolutionary Hero

Chemical analyses of ancient cheese-making tools, found in modern-day Poland by archeologists, are shedding light onto how the consumption of dairy products influenced the rise of Europe's first farming societies.

What's the Latest Development?

Chemical analyses of ancient cheese-making tools, found by archeologists in modern-day Poland, are shedding light onto how the consumption of dairy products influenced the rise of Europe's first farming societies. Evidence of milk consumption in particular reflects an important genetic adaptation that likely allowed northern societies to survive harsher environmental conditions when crop yields failed to suffice. Until the evolution of a gene that allowed humans to digest milk's lactate, the unrefined dairy product functioned essentially as a poison. Early cheese production relied on crude sieves to separate fatty lactate from liquid whey.

What's the Big Idea?

Today, more than 90 percent of northern European populations can digest lactose, while less than 40 percent of southern populations can. The genetic adaptation that opened milk up as a rich source of nutrients may also help explain whether hunger-gather societies became farmers, or if they were replaced by societies who out competed them for scarce resources. "Lactase persistence had a harder time becoming established in parts of southern Europe, because Neolithic farmers had settled there before the mutation appeared. But as the agricultural society expanded northwards and westwards into new territory, the advantage provided by lactase persistence had a big impact."

Photo credit:

Read it at Nature News

Related Articles
Keep reading Show less

Five foods that increase your psychological well-being

These five main food groups are important for your brain's health and likely to boost the production of feel-good chemicals.

Mind & Brain

We all know eating “healthy” food is good for our physical health and can decrease our risk of developing diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. What is not as well known is that eating healthy food is also good for our mental health and can decrease our risk of depression and anxiety.

Keep reading Show less

For the 99%, the lines are getting blurry

Infographics show the classes and anxieties in the supposedly classless U.S. economy.

What is the middle class now, anyway? (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs

For those of us who follow politics, we’re used to commentators referring to the President’s low approval rating as a surprise given the U.S.'s “booming” economy. This seeming disconnect, however, should really prompt us to reconsider the measurements by which we assess the health of an economy. With a robust U.S. stock market and GDP and low unemployment figures, it’s easy to see why some think all is well. But looking at real U.S. wages, which have remained stagnant—and have, thus, in effect gone down given rising costs from inflation—a very different picture emerges. For the 1%, the economy is booming. For the rest of us, it’s hard to even know where we stand. A recent study by Porch (a home-improvement company) of blue-collar vs. white-collar workers shows how traditional categories are becoming less distinct—the study references "new-collar" workers, who require technical certifications but not college degrees. And a set of recent infographics from CreditLoan capturing the thoughts of America’s middle class as defined by the Pew Research Center shows how confused we are.

Keep reading Show less