Researchers unravel how human diets evolved, shaped modern man

February 20th, 2009 - 3:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 20 (IANS) How diet has shaped our genome and holds the keys to understanding how we evolved from hunter-gatherers to agriculturists, to modern urban dwellers, occupies an evolutionary scientist’s time.
Anne Stone, associate professor of anthropology at the Arizona State University (ASU) School of Human Evolution and Social Change said “one area we look at is starch consumption, something prominent in both agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers.”

A study she and graduate student George PJ Perry led on the amalyse gene (AMY1) copy number variation - the gene responsible for starch hydrolysis - produced one of the first examples of positive selection on a copy number variable gene in the human genome.

The results show how different level of AMY1 copy number differentiation is unusual in a population, and that individuals with high starch diets have more copies than those with traditionally low starch diets.

Digestion of starches is critically important for energy absorption - especially during episodes of diarrhoea. This research gives insight into why certain populations may weather diarrhoeal diseases better than others.

Researchers like Stone look to our closest relatives - the chimpanzee and other primates - for comparisons to humans in order to understand the unique development of the human body and how it is impacted by diseases and the environment.

“We discovered that the average human has about three times more AMY1 copies than chimpanzees, which eat mostly fruit and far less starch than humans. And bonobos may not have any,” said Stone, according to an ASU release.

Stone presented her study on how diet holds the keys to understanding who we are at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.

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