Alcohol Tolerance Saved Ape Ancestors From Extinction, New Research Reveals

Two British researchers have found that alcohol tolerance was crucial in the survival of ape species that subsequently evolved into humans

A new book by two British researchers suggests that our ability to tolerate low levels of alcohol may have helped the ape ancestors of human beings avoid starvation and extinction.

10 million years ago, ape species were on the decline. This was in part due to the fact that they competed for food with monkey species, who could, unlike apes, eat and metabolise unripe fruit. Naturally, this meant that whilst the apes were waiting for the fruit to ripen, it was eaten by monkey species.

Over generations, a development occurred within ape species, allowing them to metabolise the rotting, fermenting fruit which lay rejected on the ground. These fruits, which had an alcohol level of 1-4%, required early ape species to develop a special protein which allowed them to process and absorb the calorific content of the food.

As a result, the apes could eat fruits that were inedible to most other species, and could survive despite their competitive environment.

This same protein has been passed down to the ape species we know today, including gorillas and chimpanzees. Naturally, it has been passed down to us too, and as a result alcohol has become something of a cornerstone of our civilization.

This research was released in Alcohol and Humans: A Lond and Social Affair, by Dr Kim Hockings, senior lecturer in conservation science at Exeter University and Dr Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford.

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