View Full Version : BBC: Starch 'fuel of human evolution'

Jul 24th, 2008, 01:44 PM
Starch 'fuel of human evolution'

The average Brit eats 500 medium-sized potatoes each year
Man's ability to digest starchy foods like the potato may explain our success on the planet, genetic work suggests.
Compared with primates, humans have many more copies of a gene essential for breaking down calorie-rich starches, Nature Genetics reports.

And these extra calories may have been crucial for feeding the larger brains of humans, speculate the University of California Santa Cruz authors.

Previously, experts had wondered if meat in the diet was the answer.
More about potatoes and the human evolution here. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6983330.stm)

(A little side note about brain size and intelligence: if brain size would play such a significant role for survival, why didn't the Neanderthals survive? They had larger brains than current humans.)

Jul 24th, 2008, 05:06 PM
According to what I've read a largeish brain might be a necessary but not sufficient condition for our style of cognition. Another necessary condition might be the ability to put together information from different domains such as the natural and the technical - an ability that is supposed to enable creativity in problem solving. Neanderthals were apparently very good at making a particular kind of flint tool but never made any other kind, i.e. they found it hard to innovate.

This is what I can remember from a book by a chap called Stephen Mithen called "The Prehistory of the Mind" but I've probably garbled it a bit!

Aug 18th, 2008, 06:02 PM
Anyone remember a BBC article about potatoes being the reason our brains developed as early humans, as opposed to meat? I can't find the article but could sure use it! Any help would be great. :D

Aug 18th, 2008, 06:16 PM
Anyone remember a BBC article about potatoes being the reason our brains developed as early humans, as opposed to meat? I can't find the article but could sure use it! Any help would be great. :D
Here yah go!

Aug 18th, 2008, 06:28 PM
Thank you!

Aug 18th, 2008, 08:01 PM
While starches may have played a role, potatoes did not. Potatoes are a New World plant and humans did most of our evolving--especially the big-brain parts--in Africa. Potatoes probably didn't enter our diet at all until about 50,000 years ago at the earliest. The startches we would've been exposed to would be native African tubers, which I believe includes manioc.

Back to the article itself, it's interesting but I agree with the guy at the end of article urging to resist jumping to conclusions based on this study.


Aug 18th, 2008, 09:01 PM
Here's a little excerpt from an article (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071112172155.htm) about the same topic:

Chimpanzees inhabiting a harsh savanna environment and using bark and stick tools to exploit an underground food resource are giving scientists new insights to the behaviors of the earliest hominids who, millions of years ago, left the African forests to range the same kinds of environments and possibly utilize the same foods.

Chimpanzees crave roots and tubers even when food is plentiful above ground, according to a new study that raises questions about the relative importance of meat for brain evolution.


The new finding suggests chimpanzees, and indirectly the earliest hominids, took advantage of tuber gathering. (Chimps are the best model for the earliest hominids, which eventually evolved into modern humans.)

Hidden treats
The evidence includes multiple holes in the ground, some directly beneath chimpanzee nests, knuckle prints, feces and chewed-up, spit-out wads of excavated tubers. The researchers also discovered seven tools at three of the sites. The sticks and bark showed worn edges and sediment patterns that imply they were used for digging.

The researchers found the chimps feasted on the hidden resources during the rainy season, even though aboveground treats were readily available. Anthropologists had thought the roots and tubers only served as fallback foods for chimps during the dry seasons when sustenance was scarce.

The rainy-season finding "suggests it wasn't a matter of being pushed into something that you had no choice. It's a matter of opening up an opportunity," said Hernandez-Aguilar's colleague James Moore, a biological anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego.

Tooth anomaly
Root and tuber chow could help to explain dental changes found in the fossil record for the earliest human ancestors. Fossil evidence dating from 3 million to 4 million years ago has revealed changes in the teeth and jaws of the first hominids that indicate some fundamental change in diet that would require hardy chewing—more than is required by eating meat.

Jan 23rd, 2009, 06:41 AM
Here's an excerpt of Dr. John McDougall's comment (http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2007nl/oct/fav5.htm):

Proponents of meat-based diets preach that the introduction of meat into the human diet was responsible for the evolutionary development of the human brain. One of this study’s principle authors said this theory is improbable. Nathaniel Dominy pointed out, “Even when you look at modern human hunter-gatherers, meat is a relatively small fraction of their diet. They cooperate with language, use nets; they have poisoned arrows, even, and still it's not that easy to hunt meat. To think that, two to four million years ago, a small-brained, awkwardly bipedal animal could efficiently acquire meat, even by scavenging, just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.”

Before the availability of DNA testing many other observations have proven we are designed to be primarily plant-eaters. Our teeth are for grinding, not the tearing of animal flesh. Our intestines are long and convoluted for digestion of fibrous plant-foods; meat-eaters’ intestines are much shorter and relatively simple for quickly digesting and eliminating the digested flesh. For a more complete discussion of our anatomy and physiology which establishes us as primarily plant-food eaters see my July 2003 newsletter: Meat in the Human Diet (http://www.nealhendrickson.com/mcdougall/030700pumeatinthehumandiet.htm).

Through the modern science of DNA we have discovered an essential truth locked in our genes: humans are starch eaters. The failure to abide by this truth has resulted in unprecedented human disease due to malnutrition from over-nutrition, and an impending environmental collapse from the livestock industries supporting Western people’s perverse diet. Applying correct information about human nutrition results in miraculous cures of dietary diseases (for example, obesity, type-2 diabetes, inflammatory arthritis, and the ravages of atherosclerosis). The eventual return of humans to their starch-based diet will be a huge step in solving our environmental crises, as well.

Perry GH, Dominy NJ, Claw KG, Lee AS, et al. Diet and the evolution of human amylase gene copy number variation (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=17828263&ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsP anel.Pubmed_RVDocSum). Nat Genet. 2007 Oct;39(10):1256-60. Epub 2007 Sep 9.

Nov 13th, 2010, 01:35 PM
yam is today eaten in africa, cassava is very common africa, and widely used even today. BUT it is midly toxic, and cannot be eaten just like that, not sure really how it is treated, i think it has to be boiled.
Then i wonder about sweet potato, if it is native of africa or not ( they do use it there nowadays). Sweet potatoes are an entire different species of plant that potato, and it is said that they are more nutritous than the "normal" potato. The Japanese, after the war, after being bombded and defeated, whole towns totally destroyed (becaused burnt, built entirely of wood), survived a lot on sweet potato.
europe had not as much tubers growing wild, having more fibers and less starch in them. For really tasty yams and tubers and sweet potatos, there is a much more bigger variety but also consumtion and liking in hotter countries, especially in asia. We should have more variety in our starch intake, europe focus too much on the potato alone.

Jun 22nd, 2011, 10:21 AM
From http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110621093308.htm

Cutting Edge Training Developed the Human Brain 80,000 Years Ago (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110621093308.htm)

An excerpt:

ScienceDaily (June 22, 2011) — Advanced crafting of stone spearheads contributed to the development of new ways of human thinking and behaving, according to new findings by archaeologists from Lund University. The technology took a long time to acquire, required step by step planning and increased social interaction across the generations. This led to the human brain developing new abilities.

Some 200,000 years ago, small groups of people wandered across Africa, looking anatomically much like present-day humans, but not thinking the way we do today. Studies of fossils and the rate of mutations in DNA show that the human species to which we all belong -- Homo sapiens sapiens -- has existed for 200,000 years.
But the archaeological research of recent years has shown that, even though the most ancient traces of modern humans are 200,000 years old, the development of modern cognitive behaviour is probably much younger. For about 100,000 years, there were people who looked like us, but who were cognitively and socially very different from us.
It is precisely that period of transformation that the researchers at Lund University in Sweden have studied. In the next issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, they present new findings on the early modern humans that existed in what is now South Africa, approximately 80,000 years ago.
The findings show that people at that time used advanced technology for the production of spearheads and that the complicated crafting process likely developed the working memory and social life of humans.
"When the technology was passed from one generation to the next, from adults to children, it became part of a cultural learning process which created a socially more advanced society than before. This affected the development of the human brain and cognitive ability," says Anders Högberg, PhD.

Jun 22nd, 2011, 02:58 PM
Wow, interesting.

Though I am afraid that the peace movement will get criticism now, because obviously only the production of aggressive weapons allowed us to evolve to our 'true nature' ;-)

As good an argument to make as 'only meat eating allowed our brains to evolve' ...

Best regards,