New Study Finds Humans May Be Developing A Gene Which Makes Drinking Alcohol Unpleasant

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New research has shown that different populations of humans are developing a unique gene that gives them an “adverse physical response” when they consume alcohol. Because of this, scientists have concluded that as we continue to grow and evolve, we may eventually find drinking so unpleasant that alcohol may become a thing of the past.

While only a small segment of populations currently have this specific genetic adaption, it is unclear how long it will take to spread to other segments. However, for those who do suffer from this adverse response to alcohol, they may find themselves feeling rather queasy and quickly developing a rapid heartbeat along with a flushed face soon after drinking, according to Live Science.

With most drinkers, their bodies naturally break down alcohol into toxic acetaldehyde which is then metabolized into acetate, and this is completely expelled from the drinker’s body. But those who have the new genetic variation which gives them the adverse reaction to alcohol will find that acetaldehyde continues to build up in their bodies, which is why they feel so thoroughly unwell after drinking.

The new study on the effects of alcohol on specific populations originally came about after researchers decided to look at the human genome to determine how it has evolved over time. In order to do this, scientists examined data taken from something known as the 1,000 Genomes Projects and were able to study the genomes of 26 populations of people over a range of four different continents.

The genetic variance which makes it difficult for some to drink alcohol was found to exist in five distinct populations of people and also spanned different continents. This would make the genetic adaption less likely to be the cause of mere genetic inheritance, as The Independent reported, and the authors deemed the variation to be advantageous.

“These loci immediately raise questions of how these examples arose, whether by gene flow after divergence or a common ancestral event. Though only a small amount of gene flow between African and non-African populations is thought to have occurred since their divergence, the introduction of an adaptively advantageous allele at very low frequency could lead to the signature we observed. But it seems apparent that each locus is unique.”

The authors of the study also concluded that the new gene that gives some drinkers of alcohol an adverse response has come about recently.

“Taken collectively, these patterns suggest that alcohol oxidation pathways broadly have been subject to recent positive selection in humans. Genes in this pathway have been repeatedly targeted, with multiple events segregating at these sites, and the selective pressure appears to operate across the major continental groups included in this study.”

The new study on the genetic adaption of humans to alcohol and the variance which stops many people from drinking can be read in Nature Ecology and Evolution.