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Climate Change and the Evolution of Mankind

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Session Description: 

In 1859 Darwin published his “Origin of Species” that argued for the existence of evolution based on the principle of ‘survival of the fittest”. One of the most important aspects of survival of the fittest is the ability to survive periods of food shortage or dehydration driven by climate change or environmental mishaps. Dr. Richard Johnson of the University of Colorado and Dr. Peter Andrews from the Museum of Natural History in London collaborated on research that identified a key process  that animals use to protect themselves when food and water are not plentiful, and it involves decreasing their overall energy level, holding onto fat, and the development of insulin resistance which allows glucose to preferentially be a fuel for the brain. As they studied this process, they identified a mutation in the human lineage which acted to enhance the ability for humans to store fat and become insulin resistant from eating fruit. When they studied this mutation, which alters uric acid metabolism, they were able to show that it occurred during a time of climate change in the Miocene that resulted in global cooling and the extinction of numerous species. In collaboration with Peter Andrews from the Natural Museum of History, they argued that the mutation occurred among European apes that were on the brink of starvation and death, and the mutation provided the key survival advantage for our ancestors over other ape species. To test this hypothesis, they collaborate with Dr. Miguel Lanaspa and Dr. Eric Gaucher and resurrected the extinct gene and documented the beneficial effects of the mutation. Thus, climate change has directly affected the evolution of survival of humans. This talk will discuss how this past mutation is increasing our risk for obesity , diabetes and kidney disease today, how it is being compounded by ongoing increases in temperature , and how , equipped with the knowledge they have gleaned, they can directly intervene to not only help our species, but others that are suffering.