Monday, August 12, 2002

First Nature Post
I think I will do these one at a time, with lots of quotes so people without access can get the gist.
Jared Diamond reprises Guns, Germs and Steel, with some specifics on human evolution:
Domestication has been by far the most important cause of changes in human gene frequencies in the past 10,000 years. Among the mechanisms responsible are: the spread of human genes from the agricultural homelands; the evolution of genetic resistance factors (including the ABO blood groups) to our new crowd infectious diseases; the evolution of adult-persistent lactase in milk-consuming populations of northern Europe and several parts of Africa; the evolution of allozymes of alcohol metabolism permitting consumption of large quantities of nutritionally important beer in western Eurasia; and the evolution of adaptations to a diet higher in simple carbohydrates, saturated fats and (in modern times) calories and salt, and lower in fibre, complex carbohydrates, calcium and unsaturated fats, than the hunter�gatherer diet....
some adjustments in the details:
For example, contrary to what I wrote five years ago, the spread of farming in coastal west Mediterranean Europe (in the form of the Cardial and impressed ware cultures) now seems to have involved the rapid transport by sea of a complete package of Neolithic domesticates around 5400 BC by colonizing pioneer farmers. The Yayoi horizon, which marks the arrival of intensive rice agriculture in Japan, and which Japanese scholars until recently preferred to view as an adoption of mainland practices by the indigenous pre-existing Japanese population, now seems increasingly likely on genetic evidence to represent the arrival, population increase and spread of Korean farmers....
and some speculations on the future:
Humanity's greatest risk today is of our growing numbers and aspirations ultimately destroying our society by destroying our environment. Providing undernourished people with more food would be a laudable goal if it were inexorably linked to reducing our numbers, but in the past more food has always resulted in more people. Only when crop and animal breeders take the lead in reducing our numbers and our impacts will they end up by doing us net good....

Some genotypes that used to serve us well as hunter�gatherers now serve us poorly as first-world citizens who forage only in supermarkets � especially metabolically thrifty genotypes that now predispose to type II diabetes, salt-conserving genotypes that predispose to hypertension, and other genotypes predisposing to other cardiovascular diseases and lipid disorders. As formerly spartan populations become westernized ('coca-colonized'), they fall victim to these diseases of the western lifestyle, extreme examples being the 70% incidence of type II diabetes in those Nauru Islanders and Pima Indians lucky enough to survive to the age of 60. Because diabetes now afflicts south Asians and Pacific Islanders already in their twenties with high morbidity and mortality, there has been detectable natural selection against the predisposing genotypes even within just recent decades. The lower frequency of type II diabetes in Europeans than in non-Europeans matched for diet and lifestyle suggests that natural selection had already reduced European frequencies of those genotypes in previous centuries, as the western lifestyle was developing in Europe. In effect, the unconscious domestication of humans by agriculture that began over 10,000 years ago is still underway.

[ I have removed the references for formatting's sake. "Coca-colonization" comes from P. Zimmet, "Globalization, coca-colonization and the chronic disease epidemic: can the Doomsday scenario be averted?" J Intern Med2000; 247: 301-310 (here's a link if you have access to Blackwell/Synergy).
The complete Nature ref. is: Jared Diamond, "Evolution, consequences and future of plant and animal domestication" Nature 418, 700-707 (2002).]

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