Genes uncover dairy farming origins

Sara Wood and John Pickrell in Cosmos Magazine:

Screenhunter_06_feb_28_1107A new genetic analysis of ancient human remains proves that humans were unable to digest milk prior to the spread of agriculture and dairy farming within the last 8,000 years.

Though all people can digest milk in infanthood, most of the world’s population lose that ability at between two and five years of age.

At this time their bodies stop producing an enzyme called lactase, which is essential for digestion of lactose sugars found in dairy products. Most Asians, sub-Saharan Africans, native Americans and Pacific Islanders remain lactose intolerant today.

However, a mutation in many European and some African populations allows them to produce lactase into adulthood, and in these cultures dairy products – such as milk cheese and yoghurt – traditionally form a key component of the diet.

More here.