Evolution May Make it Harder for Humans to Hold Their Liquor

Feb 23, 2018

By Laura Geggel

Humans are still evolving… but before toasting to that, know this: Some of the genetic changes may make hangovers worse, a new study finds.

So far, only certain populations have genetic adaptations that make it hard for them to process alcohol, but there’s no telling how fast it will spread to other populations, the researchers found.

As for people who already have the adaptation, they may have “reduced tolerance to alcohol in today’s environment,” study senior investigator Benjamin Voight, an associate professor of genetics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, told Live Science in an email.

The researchers did the study so they could learn which regions of the human genome have adapted — that is, evolved — over the past tens of thousands of years, Voight said. To investigate, they looked at publicly available data from the 1,000 Genomes Project, a large sequencing venture that’s collected the genomes of more than 2,500 individuals of diverse ancestries — representing 26 different populations from four continents, Voight said.

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12 comments on “Evolution May Make it Harder for Humans to Hold Their Liquor

  • I am confused by this article as I always read that the natural state was not to have tolerance to alcohol. I can understand that we might be evolving our way out of it again but the article isn’t clear? (To me)

  • I always understood that it was the other way around, that population groups which did not have the necessary resources and technology to manufacture and store alcoholic drinks, never developed a tolerance for alcohol. Thus isolated population groups, for instance Australian Aboriginals have a low tolerance, whereas western Europeans, whose whole civilisation was, according to some, too much centred on boozing, became highly skilled drinkers, due to generations of dedicated practice and commitment.

  • According to article under Other Adaptions: “The researchers also spotted a genetic sequence in the CT64 gene that early humans likely acquired when they had sex with Neanderthals.” The reference to the other article didn’t explore the topic either, but my question is: If evolution is an undirected process then how would the homo sapiens ancestor “acquire” a genetic sequence when mating with a Neanderthal instead of a Human. Would it take many pairings to become a dominate gene change?

  • PhineasTPH #3
    Feb 24, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    The reference to the other article didn’t explore the topic either, but my question is: If evolution is an undirected process

    Evolution has no planned outcome, but the immediate steering towards a particular adaptation, is directed by natural selection in favour of the best fit to the current environmental conditions.

    It is likely that in cold climates, Neanderthals had been scavenging frozen fermented fruit, whereas humans came from warmer climates where lying fruits would rot quickly.

    Over time, there would be a survival advantage for Neanderthals and Neanderthal hybrids, if they could use a food source, to which pure human competitor’s digestive systems were less tolerant.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14842999

    A homeowner in southern Sweden got a shock when he found a drunken elk stuck in his neighbour’s apple tree.

    The animal was apparently on the hunt for fermenting apples when she lost her balance and became trapped in the tree.

    then how would the homo sapiens ancestor “acquire” a genetic sequence when mating with a Neanderthal instead of a Human.

    Approximately half of the hybrid’s DNA would be from the Neanderthal parent.

    Would it take many pairings to become a dominate gene change?

    If if was a genetically dominant sequence, or there was active selection in favour of that adaptation, it could take only one – but evidence suggests there were more.

  • One explanation I read was that trying to make water safe to drink by boiling it, the Asians then found infusing the water with some leaves made it more interesting and ended up with the rituals of tea drinking in places like China and Turkey. I was surprised when a young American Indian doctor, we met in Turkey, was surprised that she was offered tea wherever she went and not alcohol. The alcholhol in the West was the work of monks exploiting their grape production so the westerners developed a resistance to the poisoning.

    I react as I should and get the hangover as I am drinking so it is not pleasant for me to drink. My eldest brother can drink for days without eating a thing, but then he is an addict of all the drugs so genetically we can’t be the same. The problem is that I am bundled in with “westerners” stats at the doctors because when I am asked how much I drink a week and I reply that one unit a week is probably too much, I get a response of raised eyebrows and a quick entry into the computer that propbably isn’t what I said.

  • In my early 70s, after a life of drinking too much, I’m blessed that I haven’t experienced a hangover since I was a teenager. Does that mean I am more cave man than most?

  • Alan4discussion in answer #5. I am not sure what the rotting fruit has to do with the sexual orientation of the Sapiens / neanderthalensis. Fermented fruit (frozen or not) would still require some changes to become drinkable alcohol I believe. But the original question goes beyond the article and the reference article by inferring that the two groups had coitus on a regular basis. The only reference to the CT64 gene I could find was “RIKEN DNA Bank Human Resource – CT64 cancer/testis antigen 64 (non-protein coding)” which would seem to indicate a mutagen gene and not one that would encourage the interbreeding of the two “species”. Assuming this gene was not cancerous and mutated and then through Mendelian genetics was a recessive gene then it would have been lost within 3 generations unless their was close interbreeding (am I correct). If it was a dominant gene then it could have been spread through the population, but how fast so that they recognize. And what relation to current sexual preference does it have between say white/black interracial relations?

  • Fermented fruit (frozen or not) would still require some changes to become drinkable alcohol.

    Why so? And what changes?

    Many fruits are naturally fermenting because of ambient yeasts/fungi, which yield rapid production of ethanol before rotting makes ingestion dangerous or before microbial contamination lifts methanol production to dangerous levels.

  • PhineasTPH #8
    Feb 25, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    Alan4discussion in answer #5. I am not sure what the rotting fruit has to do with the sexual orientation of the Sapiens / neanderthalensis.

    It has to do with the geographical sources of fermented fruit and the associated locations of many generations of Neanderthals in the colder climates of Europe – as distinct from the warmer climate of Africa where the migration of humans’ ancestors originated.

    There are probably parallels in the evolution of alcohol tolerance in eaters of fermented fruit or fruit juice, and evolved lactose tolerance in herdsmen who kept dairy herds of cattle,sheep, or goats.

    Fermented fruit (frozen or not) would still require some changes to become drinkable alcohol I believe.

    Not really – as my link @#5 on the drunken Moose shows, wild yeasts will ferment the sugars in fruit spontaneously, once the skins are damaged.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeast_in_winemaking

    Grapes brought in from harvest are usually teeming with a variety of “wild yeast” from the Kloeckera and Candida genera.
    These yeasts often begin the fermentation process almost as soon as the grapes are picked when the weight of the clusters in the harvest bins begin to crush the grapes, releasing the sugar-rich must.[4]
    While additions of sulfur dioxide (often added at the crusher) may limit some of the wild yeast activities, these yeasts will usually die out once the alcohol level reaches about 15% due to the toxicity of alcohol on the yeast cells physiology

    If it was a dominant gene then it could have been spread through the population, but how fast so that they recognize.
    And what relation to current sexual preference does it have between say white/black interracial relations?

    Neanderthal DNA sequences are exclusive to human races which overlapped and shared Neanderthal territory.
    There is no Neanderthal DNA in races which are native to Africa, unless they have have migrated out of Africa, or mixed with European or Asian colonists.

    https://phys.org/news/2016-03-world-neanderthal-denisovan-ancestry-modern.html

    Most non-Africans possess at least a little bit Neanderthal DNA.
    But a new map of archaic ancestry—published March 28 in Current Biology—suggests that many bloodlines around the world, particularly of South Asian descent, may actually be a bit more Denisovan, a mysterious population of hominids that lived around the same time as the Neanderthals.
    The analysis also proposes that modern humans interbred with Denisovans about 100 generations after their trysts with Neanderthals.

  • Phineas

    3

    Would it take many pairings to become a dominate gene change?

    8

    I am not sure what the rotting fruit has to do with the sexual orientation of the Sapiens / neanderthalensis.

    x

    which would seem to indicate a mutagen gene and not one that would encourage the interbreeding of the two “species”.

    x

    what relation to current sexual preference does it have between say white/black interracial relations?

    I can see that you are interested in the genetics of this subject matter but I also sense that you have some interest in the sexual behavior of humans with Neanderthals and with different groups of humans as well. Is this the primary question on your mind? If so, it’s ok to just say that directly.

    We’ve discussed the topic of sexual behavior between H. sapiens here before and If I remember correctly, the general consensus is that Neanderthals probably didn’t look dramatically different from the humans of that time. Was the degree of difference between humans and Neanderthals more than the difference in groups of humans that we have now in the world? Different groups (races) of humans DO interbreed often when they come into contact with each other and I don’t see any reason why humans and Neanderthals wouldn’t have interbred as well. I’m not saying it was all consensual. We may never get a clear picture of that.

    Are you having some difficulty with feelings about the situation?

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