Early Europeans drank cow’s milk for thousands of years before becoming adults and evolving the ability to fully digest cow’s milk, scientists say.
New results published in the journal Nature Instead, new research suggests that famine and disease made lactose intolerance fatal. suggests.
This new discovery challenges long-held hypotheses that dairy farming spread among ancient populations, along with a genetic specificity that prevents adults from losing the ability to digest lactose.
Like other young mammals, human children also produce an enzyme called lactase that breaks down lactose. The lactase gene is normally turned off in adults. This is because, with the exception of humans, adult mammals do not drink cow’s milk.
Without lactase, lactose from milk becomes food for gas-producing gut microbes and can cause unpleasant digestive problems.
“You’ll have a few cramps. You’ll have some diarrhea. You might fart a little more. It might be uncomfortable for you,” said the University of California, California, who led the genetics study of the new study. College London geneticist Mark Thomas said, “As embarrassing as it may be, you’re not going to die.”
But when our ancient ancestors suffered from plague and famine, diarrhea from drinking milk was probably more than just an annoyance, the authors suggest.
“So we’re talking about life-threatening conditions,” Thomas said.
About a third of people alive today have a genetic mutation that prevents the lactase gene from being turned off. This trait has evolved independently many times in the ancestors of people now living in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and parts of Europe.
Scientists have long believed that lactase persistence evolved with the spread of dairy farming, which began around 7000 BC and lasted for thousands of years.
However, previous studies have revealed little persistence of lactase in Europe until about 3,000 years ago. However, it took only a few thousand years for the trait to spread, a blink of an eye in the evolutionary process.
Why this trait evolves so rapidly has been a mystery.
“Lactase persistence has been under an enormous amount of natural selection over the past 8,000 to 10,000 years…more than any other part of the European genome,” said Thomas. “It was, for a very long time, the only trait where life and death were affected more than any other trait. …It’s insane. It just defies explanation.”
Seeking an explanation, the authors sought to reconstruct the history of milk use in the region over the past 9,000 years. They examined the fat residue left on more than 7,000 of his pottery shards collected at 550 archaeological sites across Europe.
“When people are cooking, the fat liquefies and seeps into the pores of the pottery,” said Melanie Rofe-Sark, an organic geochemist at the University of Bristol and co-author of the study. “It’s really amazing. But thousands of years later, when archaeologists unearth discarded pottery and analyze the pottery, it’s still there.”
Pottery shards showed that milk consumption was widespread across much of Europe for thousands of years before most Europeans became lactose intolerant.
Researchers who studied the health data of modern Britons found no evidence that drinking cow’s milk harms the health of modern adults who do not produce lactase.
Surprisingly, using data on ancient demographics to approximate when and where ancient Europeans dealt with famine and disease, the researchers found that disease and hunger were associated with more lactase than milk consumption. found that it may better explain the evolution of persistence in
A famine may have forced ancient people to drink more milk than usual because other food sources were scarce. And both malnutrition and disease may have made lactose-induced diarrhea so dangerous: Severe diarrhea can be deadly — the world’s leading cause of death for children under five 2nd place.
Shevan Wilkin, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Zurich who reviewed the new paper, said the study was an important step forward, but he wasn’t necessarily convinced that famine and disease alone could explain the evolution of lactase persistence. Stated.
“The reason I don’t know if they think they’re right is because I don’t know if they think they’re wrong, because 2,000 years ago there was definitely a time of famine.
Thomas said he hopes similar studies will be done in Africa, where lactase persistence has evolved three times independently. pointed out that the focus should be on other regions, including Central Asia.
“I find it really interesting to apply this [in] Multiple locations,” says Wilkin. “This is a very cool and ambitious undertaking, and I think it will spur a lot of new research.”
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