Why Are Humans Biologically Equipped to Metabolize Alcohol?

Gorilla origami

A paper recently published in Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences traces the origins of our favorite enzyme, ADH4 (whereby we can metabolize alcohol), concluding that our ability to digest fermented sugars is perhaps the reason why were are still here, today, millions of years later, walking, working and, of course, drinking.

As reported by NPR, ADH4 allows us to not only handle, but make use of alcohol, which would have come in handy when our ancient ancestors had to resort to eating rotten fruit on the then steadily cooling planet. Matthew Carrigan, an evolutionary biologist at Santa Fe College and lead author of the paper, says that the emergence of the enzyme took almost immediate effect, and may have saved the species from starvation.

We wouldn’t start making our own alcohol until much later, around 7,000 B.C., but it turns out our guts were primed for its consumption much earlier. [NPR] [Image: Flickr/Daniel Chang]