Humans Stayed Lactose Intolerant Long After Dawn of Dairy Operations
Trait showed up thousands of years after first cheese-making
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 21, 2014 5:01 PM CDT
Trait showed up thousands of years after first cheese-making.   (AP Photo/Courtesy Kenneth McNulty)
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(Newser) – Humans have been running relatively advanced dairy operations for more than 7,000 years—the first cheese dates back to then—so it seems logical to assume that human bodies have been able to process milk for just as long. Turns out, that assumption is off by thousands of years, reports the Washington Post. A study of the genetic history of bones dug up in central Europe shows that humans generally remained lactose intolerant until 3,000 years ago. Researchers suggest that ancient Europeans weren't relying on dairy enough to develop the trait. "These ancient Europeans would have had domesticated animals like cows, goats, and sheep, but they would not yet have genetically developed a tolerance for drinking large quantities of milk from mammals," says researcher Ron Pinhasi in a press release.

Instead, they might have been making cheese and yogurt, the processes of which break down lactose. The study focused on the remains of 13 individuals found in the Great Hungarian Plain who lived between 5700 BC and 800 BC. Researchers unraveled their genetic secrets by examining the petrous bone, which happens to be the hardest bone in the body and is found inside the skull where it protects the inner ear, notes LiveScience. As Pinhasi explains, "The high-percentage DNA yield from the petrous bones exceeded those from other bones by up to 183-fold. This gave us anywhere between 12% and almost 90% human DNA in our samples." Teeth, fingers, and rib bones yield no more than 20%. (Another hunt for prehistoric culture is taking place in the Everglades.)
 

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