Docosahexaenoic acid biosynthesis and dietary contingency: Encephalization without aquatic constraint



Reconstructing evolutionary processes in the distant past is necessarily an inductive endeavor, typically appealing to numerous considerations thought to be relevant to the veracity of a particular conclusion. In this respect, it is essential that the considerations invoked to support hypotheses are in turn well-established truths. It is with these concerns that we sought to examine the nutritional, physiological, and archeological premises underlying the perspective that access to an aquatic diet rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) was critical to human brain evolution (Carlson and Kingston [2007]: Am J Hum Biol 19:132–141). In our report investigating links between omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids and hominin encephalization, we concluded that the regular consumption of aquatic resources rich in preformed DHA may not have been essential given a varied diet of wild terrestrial foods (Carlson and Kingston [2007]). This assessment was based primarily on evidence of potential physiological adaptations in modern humans to ensure sufficient availability of DHA during critical periods of brain growth. While modern human physiology provides critical information regarding DHA as a constraint in evolving a large brain, it is also important to consistently contextualize interpretations within a framework of eclectic foraging diets rather than nutritionally limited modern agricultural populations or even modern foragers. We contend that current interpretations of Pleistocene hominin nutritional ecology do not uniquely support a shore-based foraging niche as claimed by Cunnane et al. ([2007]: Am J Hum Biol, 19:578–581). Specific issues raised in response to our article by Cunnane et al. and Joordens et al. ([2007]: Am J Hum Biol, 19:582–584) are addressed here. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 19:585–588, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.