Our ancestors were drinking alcohol 10 million years ago

Scientists have traced the evolutionary history of an enzyme that helps us metabolise ethanol and now believe that early human ancestors evolved to digest alcohol 10 million years ago.

They believe the move might have been to fortify their diet as they shifted from a tree-based to ground-based life, as reported byDiscovery magazine.

Researchers were hoping to shed light on when, exactly, human ancestors acquired the ability to consume foods containing ethanol, such as fermented fruits. Attempts to answer this question have yielded wildly divergent theories. One theory holds that primates regularly ingested ethanol some 80 million years ago as plants started producing fleshy fruits that could drop and ferment on the ground. Other scientists believe humans started enjoying ethanol just 9,000 years ago when we learned how to ferment foodstuffs.

The research originally appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and would appear to support the thesis of Robert Dudley, Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

He wrote in his book The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink and Abuse Alcohol
, published earlier this year, that we might be hard-wired to hit the bottle.

He believes that our attraction to alcohol comes from its association with food that we acquired as primates evolving as fruit-eaters in tropical jungles.

The smell of fermentation was a sure way to find a food source, as well as a ripeness indicator, he says.