Quirks & Quarks

Alcohol the Key to our Descent from the Trees

When our ape ancestors came down from the trees, fermenting fruit on the ground turned out to be impossible to resist.
Our taste in alcohol has become more sophisticated over time. (Ron Wilson)
One of the things that makes humans an unusual animal is that we like a drink - sometimes more than is good for us. Most animals lack the taste for booze and the ability to effectively metabolize the alcohol in it. According to biologist Dr. Matthew Carrigan, from Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida, our taste for alcohol might have roots in an ancient adaptation that our ancestors acquired when we moved out of the trees. Dr. Carrigan's work shows that the enzyme we have, which breaks down alcohol much more efficiently than it does in other animals, appeared about 10 million years ago, in the ancestor we share with chimps and gorillas. He suggests this might be an adaptation to eating fallen fruit on the ground that had begun to ferment - a food source we were newly and uniquely equipped to expoit.

Related Links

Paper in PNAS
- CBC News
- NPR story
- Live Science story
- Science news story