8-10-13 Hodgepodge

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Stampeding Mutation

Writing at Nature, Andrew Curry describes how a genetic mutation that allowed adults to tolerate milk helped the advance of civilization across Europe:

During the most recent ice age, milk was essentially a toxin to adults because -- unlike children -- they could not produce the lactase enzyme required to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk. But as farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. Several thousand years later, a genetic mutation spread through Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase -- and drink milk -- throughout their lives. That adaptation opened up a rich new source of nutrition that could have sustained communities when harvests failed.
Beer, along with a mutation that permits metabolism of alcohol, is also suspected to have played a similar role, but milk was first.

Weekend Reading

"Knowledge is not acquired causelessly, it is earned, and those who earn it have the right to act on it." -- Harry Binswanger, in "Insider Trading Is a Right: Don't Shackle the Knowledge-Seekers" at Forbes

"[T]here's such thing as too much advice, and Dear Abby-style advice givers dispense their brand of counseling with reckless simplicity." -- Michael Hurd, in "When Therapy Is the Problem" at The Delaware Coast Press

"Staying out is actually the more caring thing, because it respects the fact that your friend has a mind of her own." -- Michael Hurd, in "If You Care, Don't Interfere" at The Delaware Wave

"If you're looking to crush a water, engineering, or other development project, look no further than the nearest endangered species." -- Amanda Maxham, in "Drinking Water: Save People, Not Mollusks!", part of "Water Supply Debate: To Divert or Not Divert", at Blue Ridge Outdoors

My Two Cents

Michael Hurd, through pieces that have made points similar to the central one in the second linked above, has helped me better understand why I find unsolicited advice particularly annoying.

Conversely, Hurd has added a new dimension to my understanding, as an opinion writer, of the importance of respecting reader context. It is hard enough to get people to reconsider their opinions without, say, alienating them, or causing them to suspect you're trying to pull a fast one.

Not Your Usual Trading Post

Jesse Porter pokes fun at Trader Joe's:
Pardon me? No, sir, no hatchets. Nope, no pickaxes either. OK, listen, people, this isn't really that kind of place. It's always the same complaint: "Joe, you don't have any of the essential items that every other trading post has. Why don't you have saddles? Or gunpowder? Or basic tools?" Because I have soy chorizo, that's why! Because I have chocolate-covered peanut-butter-filled pretzels! Because I have parsnip chips! Try to find parsnip chips at any other trading post! Just try! You homesteaders are so predictable...
Circa 1877. Heh!



Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, interesting article on the milk mutation. The article includes speculation as to why the lactose-tolerance mutation might have been so beneficial. One idea they don't mention that I have encountered is that cow milk's a source of water, not just of food. That is, the cow acts as a massive filter against impurities and parasites. In some environments (West Africa perhaps), this could be a great advantage. Interesting thought, anyway.

Gus Van Horn said...

That idea is similar to the hypothesis as to why beer exerted a similar effect. Boiling water to make wort and the antiseptic properties of alcohol made beer safer than water.

Snedcat said...

"That idea is similar to the hypothesis as to why beer exerted a similar effect. Boiling water to make wort and the antiseptic properties of alcohol made beer safer than water."

Which has been proposed as one of the, um, less mainstream proposals behind the spread of the Indo-European languages.

Gus Van Horn said...

The "Inebriation Hypothesis". I like it!