Five O'clock Somewhere: New study offers evolutionary meaning to 'getting drunk off our tree' 

The human appetite for alcohol has always been thought to be a relatively recent development. We've heard the joke that the invention of brewing coincided with civilization because ... how else are we supposed to put up with one another? Of course, the problem is that our distant, tree-dwelling ancestors mostly lacked the ability to metabolize alcohol, and if we only got the taste for it several millennia ago, how do we account for our ability to digest the stuff?

Well, a new study demonstrates that our early human forebears have been drinking way longer than we thought. Like, about a thousand times longer, or roughly 10 million years.

The paper, written by a team led by professor Matthew Carrigan of Santa Fe College in Florida, found that hominids developed the ability to digest alcohol a long time ago, and that it played an important role in their survival.

You see, the mutation happened at a time when humans were descending from the trees, and when food may have been scarcer. While those primates living in trees would have had no problem finding fruit that wasn't yet spoiled, eating rotten, often somewhat fermented fruit would be an evolutionary advantage to those living on terra firma. The animal who can eat the most spoiled fruit lying on the ground lives to eat another day, and if the effects of eating fermented fruit are pleasant, so much the better.

All in all, it gives a greater depth of meaning — in terms of origins and evolution — to "getting drunk off our tree."

More by Michael Jackman

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