Alcohol tolerance might have saved our ancestors from EXTINCTION, scientists claim

OUR ancestors’ ability to process alcohol may have saved them from extinction, experts have claimed.

Evolving to better handle booze could have given our ape-like forebears the edge over rival species in ancient times.

 Our ancient ape ancestors evolved to better process overripe fruit

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Our ancient ape ancestors evolved to better process overripe fruitCredit: Getty – Contributor

Around ten million years ago, our ape ancestors in Africa were eating fallen fruits from the forest floor.

But many of these fruits would have begun to ferment and become alcoholic.

Ape populations are believed to have dwindled, partly thanks to fierce competition for food.

Monkey rivals had a major advantage: they could eat unripe fruit. Apes (like modern humans) struggled to digest these unripe fruits.

 Monkeys tend to be better at processing under-ripe fruit

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Monkeys tend to be better at processing under-ripe fruitCredit: Getty – Contributor

According to the book, at least one line of apes were saved thanks to evolution.

A genetic adaptation allowed them to process alcohol, which meant they could eat overripe fruits.

Monkeys can’t tolerate the ethanol in overripe fruits, researchers say, which may have helped bring apes “back from the brink”.

These are the claims inside new book ‘Alcohol and Humans: A Long and Social Affair’, penned by top scientists.

“Even today we see great apes eating fermented fruit and even drinking palm wine produced by humans,” said Dr Kim Hockings, of the University of Exeter.

“It’s hard to be certain of why they do this, and this reflects the complex history of our own relationship with alcohol.

“One interesting point is that the alcohol level in fallen fruit is usually about 1-4% – something like weak beer.

“Yet much of the alcohol consumed by humans today is far stronger than this.

“As with other substances like salt and sugar, the problem may not be the substance itself but the concentrations we now have access to.”

What is alcohol?

Here’s what you need to know…

  • Alcohol, also known by its chemical name ethanol, is a psychoactive drug
  • It’s the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks like beer, wine and distilled spirits
  • Alcohol is believed to be one of the world’s oldest and most commonly used recreational substances
  • Its effects include mood lifting, decreased anxiety, increased sociability, sedation, and impairment of cognitive, memory, motor and sensory functions
  • Short-term negative effects include dizziness, nausea and vomiting
  • It can also be addictive to humans, and have damaging long-term health effects, including liver damage, brain damage and cancer
  • Alcohol has been produced and consumed by humans for its psychoactive effects for almost 10,000 years
  • Drinking is socially acceptable and legal in most countries

Dr Hockings co-authored the book with Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford.

The pair hope to test the ethanol levels in wild fruits to learn more about how species process alcohol.

The book is available to purchase from the Oxford University Press here.

Sun top picks for alcoholic advent calendars of 2019

In other news, experts have warned that the price of a pint could soar to £10 thanks to climate change.

A catastrophic “beer tsunami” killed eight people at a London brewery in the 19th century.

And boffins have brewed 5,000-year-old “Biblical beer” enjoyed by Pharaohs – by scraping ingredients from ancient pots.

What do you make of these boozy claims? Let us know in the comments!


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