The Most Spectacular Mutation in Recent Human History:
It seems to me that human beings have shared a fairly convoluted relationship with milk. The aforementioned article documents a remarkable evolutionary tale that interlaces lactose intolerance with natural selection.
The author of the article, Benjamin Phelan, begins with a satirically biblical allusion to the “first two Homo sapiens”, Adam and Eve. The introduction sets the tone for the rest of the article; the author’s witty perspective on the subject is woven with scientific evaluations backed up by contemporary research. The purpose of the article is fairly straightforward, Phelan attempts to explain how human beings were predominantly not inclined to drinking milk beyond infancy by developing early-onset lactose intolerant; however, a genetic mutation, that consequently spread like wildfire, resulted in humans gaining tolerance towards lactose and, ergo, somehow may have played a role in shaping the future of human civilization.
What’s remarkable about the mutation for lactose tolerance was the degree with which it spread throughout populations across the world. Except for the Americas, the mutation had made its way from Europe to India along with discrepancies in the mutation cropping up in Africa and the Middle East. Another interesting point put forth by the article is how the cultural development of civilization and agriculture having coincided with the widespread consumption of milk.
Phelan explores a number of theories explaining why and how milk became a preferable source of nutrition. He elaborates on his analysis by stating possible theories by MIT geneticist Pardis Sabeti (whom he hilariously introduces as lactose-intolerant). Sabeti opined that milk had Darwinian implications by being able to boost women’s fertility. She also stated that milk might have provided humans with a healthier, more hygienic alternative to water.
The article concludes in a similar fashion to the way it begins, bringing back the biblical metaphor and creating a sense of syntactic symmetry.
Would you agree with Phelan’s association of the proliferation of civilization with the consumption of milk? Do you think it’s possible for something as trivial as milk to leave that kind of evolutionary footprint on the human race? Or is the author, in the hope of a good read, touting what could have been a natural coincidence as a colossal evolutionary correlation?