How long have adult humans been consuming milk?

Authors

  • Pascale Gerbault,

    Corresponding author
    1. Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London, UK
    • Address correspondence to: Pascale Gerbault, Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, Darwin building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, U.K. E-mail: p.gerbault@ucl.ac.uk

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  • Mélanie Roffet-Salque,

    1. Organic Geochemistry Unit, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Cantock's Close, Bristol, UK
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  • Richard P. Evershed,

    1. Organic Geochemistry Unit, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Cantock's Close, Bristol, UK
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  • Mark G. Thomas

    1. Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London, UK
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Abstract

Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar lactose, and in most mammals, including most humans, lactase activity is down-regulated after the weaning period is completed. However, in about 35% of adults worldwide, lactase continues to be expressed throughout adulthood, a feature termed lactase persistence (LP). Genetic evidence indicates that LP is a recent human adaptation, and its current geographic distribution correlates with the relative historical importance of dairying in different human populations. Investigating archaeological evidence for fresh milk consumption has proved crucial in building an account of the joint evolution of LP and dairying. A powerful technique for investigating food processing, including milk processing, in ancient populations is lipid residue analysis on archaeological pottery. We review here the archaeological and genetic evidence available that have contributed to a better understanding of the gene-culture co-evolution of LP and dairying. © 2013 IUBMB Life, 65(12):983–990, 2013.

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