back to article Hominid ancestors beat humans to the drinks cabinet, say boffins

Here's a surprise: the ability to metabolise alcohol evolved long, long before humans became brewers, wine-makers or distillers – about 10 million years before. In research published in PNAS (abstract here) in late November, a bunch of genetic detectives have worked backwards through the development of the enzymes that handle …

  1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Boffin

    Evolution

    I've always thought that booze made us. Small mammals living among the branches eating fermented fruit all summer long. Only the ones that developed stereo vision and grasping "hands" would be likely to survive. The rest probably fell "out of the tree".

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Evolution

      Only the ones that developed stereo vision and grasping "hands" would be likely to survive. The rest probably fell "out of the tree".

      I'd say it's more likely that as fruits only start to ferment once they have fallen that the poor metabolisers didn't fall out of the tree but were unable to climb it in the first place and fell to predation while rolling around drunk and singing obscene songs about ocelots.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Evolution

        "how do you titillate an ocelot? You oscillate its tits a lot!"

        1. fearnothing
          Pint

          Re: Evolution

          If my chair wasn't so good, I'd have fallen off it. Have a beer, good sir, that one deserves some alcohol!

    2. Martin Budden
      Pint

      Re: Evolution

      I've always thought that booze made us.

      I've heard it said that the transition from nomadic hunter/gatherers to static village/town farming communities was triggered by the invention of brewing beer from grain. If true, beer is the cause of modern civilisation.

      (One could suggest that it happened the other way round, but that idea wouldn't be so much fun would it.)

  2. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Only the pleasure of eating?

    Tolerance for ethanol would make apes with the efficient ADH4 able to get more food, which would lead to the brain developing pleasure pathways linked to alcohol consumption.

    I would think that the stronger gatherers would also draw more of the opposite sex their way... a bit of a different pleasure but also spreads that bit through the gene pool and ensures it spreads.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    Another one for my arsenal.....

    ....of booze related excuses. 'It's not my fault I thought the wardrobe was a urinal, evolution has hard wired me to be a complete piss-head. I'm blameless yet again.'

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Only the pleasure of eating?

      "Tolerance for ethanol would make apes with the efficient ADH4 able to get more food, which would lead to the brain developing pleasure pathways linked to alcohol consumption."

      This doesn't sound convincing to me. Tolerance to lactose certainly opened a whole new range of foods for humans yet we don't get drunk on milk as some kind of an evolutionary reward. OTOH, methanol gives you the same kind of pleasure, apparently, before killing you dead.

      What I mean is that while tolerance to C2H5OH was clearly helpful as a way to a more, ahem, varied diet, the pleasure issue is a coincidental side-effect.

      1. squigbobble
        Happy

        Re: Only the pleasure of eating?

        I like milk.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Only the pleasure of eating?

          I like milk.

          I really like breast milk.

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Only the pleasure of eating?

        "Tolerance to lactose certainly opened a whole new range of foods for humans yet we don't get drunk on milk"

        Yes, but we've only been dairy farmers for 5-7,000 years, which is overnight in evolutionary terms. Large chunks of the world population are still lactose intolerant as adults, including about half of Europeans over the age of 50. I know of few people who cannot tolerate alcohol biologically rather than having a cultural aversion.

        1. Psyx

          Re: Only the pleasure of eating?

          "I know of few people who cannot tolerate alcohol biologically rather than having a cultural aversion."

          About half of all Japanese people for a start.

          One I know turns bright red and gets completely hammered on a pint.

          Lucky sod.

          1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

            Alcohol tolerance

            "About half of all Japanese people for a start.

            One I know turns bright red and gets completely hammered on a pint."

            From experience I wouldn't put it as high as 50%, but yes some Japanese and Chinese people (actually anyone from a culture which historically purified its drinking water by boiling it with tea leaves, rather than brewing beer with it or adding fermented mashed grapes) react badly to alcohol. The problem is that although they have normal alcohol dehydrogenase, they have a less efficient form of aldehyde dehydrogenase, which handles the second step of metabolising alcohol. The result is a build up of aldehydes in the system, which causes the red flush and an evil hangover in short order.

            However, getting drunk on small amounts of alcohol is mainly a cultural effect, just as other cultures get morose, look for a fight, sing or get maudlin (or all of the above). If you're a salaryman you have to treat your boss like god during work, but you then go for a drink after work and say exactly what you think of him because you're "drunk". It lets off steam, gives the bosses valuable feedback and is all done in a social environment where normal rules of politeness and deference are suspended. For a westerner trying to do business in Japan it's often the only time you'll get an honest opinion rather than the usual "Yes means maybe, maybe means no" politeness.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Psyx

        Re: Only the pleasure of eating?

        "This doesn't sound convincing to me. Tolerance to lactose certainly opened a whole new range of foods for humans yet we don't get drunk on milk as some kind of an evolutionary reward."

        That's because lactose isn't by nature toxic and mind-affecting. Ethanol is.

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Re: Only the pleasure of eating?

          "That's because lactose isn't by nature toxic and mind-affecting. Ethanol is."

          QED. Thank you.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Temptation

    So the Bible didn't get it quite right, then? Adam didn't eat a special apple but, rather, left for some booze and forgot to come home to the Garden of Eden.

    1. James 51 Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Temptation

      Perhaps but eatting the apple is suppose to have endowed him with the ability to tell right from wrong. Booze seems to have the opposite effect.

      1. Jungleland

        Re: Temptation

        I think booze certainly helps people tell right from wrong. The number of times all the world's problems have been solved in a pub after 5 pints......

        1. James 51 Silver badge

          Re: Temptation

          Good point. If only they could think to write it down. Might make an interesting start to next brain storming meeting.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Temptation

          > I think booze certainly helps people tell right from wrong.

          It's generally "I am right and you are wrong" though.

    2. Psyx
      Holmes

      Re: Temptation

      "So the Bible didn't get it quite right, then? Adam didn't eat a special apple"

      No, he didn't. Because Genesis doesn't say that. It's never said that. It says 'fruit'*. The idea it's an apple is about as accurate as the bible saying there were three wise men.

      *And also "I am a lawnmower, you can tell by the way I walk", but that's another story.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Temptation & I know what I like (in your wardrobe)

        Tum, dee dee, dee dum. Psyx... Actually its "Me, I'm just a lawmower - you can tell me by the way I walk. The truly apropos line is "There's always been Ethel" (Ethyl) another story indeed.

  5. MJI Silver badge

    So that is why!

    Clyde could enjoy a beer!

    1. NorthernCoder
      Coat

      Re: So that is why!

      Oook!

  6. Evan Essence
    Pint

    Ig Nobel

    Never mind the serious point. I see an Ig Nobel in the offing!

  7. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Pint

    Maybe the history of drinking has a similar three-phase pattern as warfare, which has the Retaliation (I am going to kill you because you killed my brother), Anticipation (I am going to kill you because I killed your brother) and Diplomacy (I am going to kill my brother and then kill you on the pretext that your brother did it) phases. Here we have

    Avoidance: Don't eat that fallen fruit, it will make you drunk for a week!

    Tolerance: Do eat that fruit, it won't make you drunk for a week

    Binging: Let's brew our own stuff so we can get drunk for a week again

    Raises glass and doffs hat to Douglas Adams

  8. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Windows

    Depressing...

    We're not descended from the graceful apes that swung through the trees, plucking the juiciest fruits, but their degenerate wino cousins, shuffling across the forest floor, rummaging in the piles of trash.

    Need a drink to forget...

    1. Stuart 22

      Re: Depressing...

      Bit of a disaster really. Otherwise I could have gotten wasted for a week on half a pint of watered down beer and still have change for a packet of crisps!

  9. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Pint

    Pleasure pathways...

    I'm skeptical that "pleasure pathways" needed to evolve, since alcohol is more of a systemic analgesic, unlike, say, marijuana, where a specific receptor is targeted.

    My decidedly unscientific evidence for this is from watching a nature show years ago, where animals of many different species sought out and ate from a tree with fallen fermented berries. Animals including lions, hyenas, etc. All seemed to put aside their differences and have a high old time getting crocked. Even more amusing was the next day hangover all seemed to have, with the lion holding his head with his paws, and all looking decidedly unwell.

    My general point here is, surely all these animals didn't evolve to find alcohol pleasurable to help them seek out food, especially the big cats, who are carnivores anyway, and surely all don't have the efficient gene for metabolising it. If there is any kind of pleasurable reward wired in for finding alcohol (besides getting a buzz being its own reward), it's got to be for something more complex than just finding edible food.

    1. JamesTQuirk

      Re: Pleasure pathways...

      Abundant Clean safe drinking Water, is historically speaking, a new thing ......

      In Australia, Wheat/Barley etc, falls off trucks, out of fields, gathers in drainage ditches, if they have water, alcohol will be produced, the water hole/ditch will fill with drunk/drowned dead birds, and other wildlife ...

      I think this happen before humans, naturally, however we learned to use it, the brewing process, helps purify the water content a little, so it was better than drinking from a stream/creek/river which may be a sewer ....

      I seem to remember some TimeTeam, regarding this, that their where 3 batches of the mash, 1st Beer, 2nd Dinner Ale, 3rd Kids beer, Cause nobody could drink the water, without some risk ....We managed the risk, with Alcoholism ....

      1. Identity
        Go

        Re: Pleasure pathways...

        I think this must be more widespread. I have witnessed birds eating fermented fruit and falling of branches. As we all know, birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs, so it's possible there was prehistoric boozing...

  10. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    ADH4 to its friends

    Who is its friend? ADHD? Or is it a family relation?

  11. jake Silver badge

    Uh, seems to me that humans ARE ...

    ... hominids. Just sayin'.

    (Pardon me while I tend my still.)

  12. x 7

    "Tolerance for ethanol would make apes with the efficient ADH4 able to get more food, which would lead to the brain developing pleasure pathways linked to alcohol consumption"

    Sounds like tosh. How do you explain groups such as native americans or australian aborigines who love the booze but get pissed on tiny quantities? They've developed pleasure pathways without the efficient ADH4

  13. Chris G Silver badge

    10 million years

    Of evolution leading directly via alcohol, food gathering and pleasure pathways to late night curry, kebabs and Chinese take aways.

    1. JamesTQuirk

      Re: 10 million years

      That explains the evolution of the Kebab, the more pissed you are, better it looks & Tastes ....

  14. Glenn 6

    PNAS. *giggle giggle*

  15. Vociferous

    Fruit-eating animals need to be able to deal with alcohol.

    Everything from fruit flies to monkeys (e.g. humans) to fruit bats need that, as fruits occasionally ferment. That's all there's to it.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019