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Alcohol Origins

March 5, 2013

Did our ability to digest alcohol first emerge at the dawn of civilization or millions of years earlier?

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

First call for alcohol.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Many scientists believe that humans first evolved the ability to digest alcohol around 10,000 years ago – only after pottery which could hold fermenting alcohol was invented. But this estimate may be off by millions of years, according to Steve Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Florida. He and his colleagues traced the genetic origins of the digestive enzyme that breaks down alcohol back 10 million years. That was when human-like apes including Ardipithecus, or “Ardi” for short, began to walk upright on the ground.

STEVE BENNER (Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution):

They’re walking upright, so arms and hands are free to carry things…

HIRSHON:

…things like damaged fruit that had fallen to the ground, had been infected with yeast, and fermented into alcohol.

BENNER:

So this is the answer to the age old question, “did Ardi party hearty?”, and I think the answer to that would be yes.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Did Ardipithecus, an ancient humanlike hominid, consume fermented, alcoholic fruit? (J.H. Matternes/AAAS Science)