Gene change in cannibals reveals evolution in action
By ANDY COGHLAN - NEWSCIENTIST
Added: Sat, 21 Nov 2009 00:00:00 UTC
Thanks to Debridement for the link.
It's a snapshot of human evolution in progress. A genetic mutation protecting against kuru – a brain disease passed on by eating human brains – only emerged and spread in the last 200 years.
When members of the Fore people in Papua New Guinea died, others would eat the dead person's brain during funeral rituals as a mark of respect. Kuru passed on in this way killed at least 2500 Fore in the 20th century until the cause was identified in the late 1950s and the practice halted.
Identification of kuru and how it was spread helped researchers identify how BSE – mad cow disease – spread through the feeding of infected cattle brains to other animals, and how this eventually led to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which has killed 166 people so far in the UK.
Simon Mead of the British prion research centre at University College London says the discovery of an "anti-kuru" gene is the most clear-cut evidence yet of human evolution in action.
"I hope it will become a textbook example of how evolution happens," he says. "It's a striking and timely example, given the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species," he says.
Thanks to Ivan for the link.
Tribes resistance could help CJD
Darwinian natural selection could help halt human "mad cow disease", experts say after finding a tribe impervious to a related fatal brain disorder.
The Papua New Guinea tribe developed strong genetic resistance after a major epidemic of the CJD-like disease, kuru, spread mostly by cannibalism.
Medical Research Council experts assessed more than 3,000 survivors of the mid-20th Century epidemic.
Their findings appear in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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