Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Your culture alters your DNA, and then, DNA alters

Recent discoveries indicate that DNA remains the topic of focus. It would seem that lactose intolerance – the inability of individuals to to digest dairy products – is a throwback to our ancestors 7,000 years ago. Humans were not “designed” to drink milk beyond infancy.

The ability to digest, dairy products – more specifically, lactose (milk sugar) – is a relatively recent evolutionary mutation. The ability to digest non-human milk allowed our ancestors to travel with a living, self replenishing, nutritious food supply.

It all began with farming, the cultivation of wild crops which lessened the food gathering effort, and allowed people to either abandon their nomadic lifestyles, or modify them. We might not think of it in that way, but the ranch style life of a herdsman is simply a modification to the nomadic lifestyle – giving rise to the concept of “Home.”

Current research places the development of farming at 10,000 years ago, in land of Canaan. The scripturally conversant know of Cain as the builder of cities, and tiller of soil. Most know him as the slayer of Able – the nomadic herdsman – but do not recognize the story as a symbolic history of civilization.

Curiously, there is the “mark of Cain” which warns all to protect the city builder, the agent of civilization. Who is the warning directed to? None other than the nomads – in Europe we know them as Tartars, Huns and, of course, Vandals from whom comes “to vandalize.”

Animal husbandry emerged 9,000 years ago – is not Able the younger brother? With the domestication of sheep and cattle came the collection of milk.

Up until than, humanity could only consume human milk – we were lactose intolerant – once the first set of teeth emerged, sugars were acquired from solids in the form of fats and vegetables.

Somewhere in the process, possibly through the cooking of calf meat in its mother’s milk, our RNA was altered. RNA is a transient genetic messenger. You might say it is natures test to the beneficial nature of a genetic mutation. Once lactose tolerance was deemed beneficial, the DNA altered to make it a permanent part of our physiology.

Farming spread northward – at 1 km a year – along the fertile crescent and into modern day Turkey. It spread to Iraq and Egypt and outward to India and China. What nearby land could not easily be farmed was sited for homes and cities. Cultural change altered DNA, which gave rise an evolution of culture – a classic feedback loop.

In genealogy, the DNA tells a cultural story, marks a path of history, which we can compare to written records – to the myths, stories, and documented facts. Obviously, this is the story of each of our families, this history of humanity which somehow brought us Downeast.

My personal journey seeks the origins of Jeremias Shrecongast – an orphan whose DNA I carry. I ask you to join me, and we shall cross paths figures of song, legend and holy writ. We will meet goldsmiths, ironworkers and Amazons; but this week is New Years, so let us recall that all we are came from a change we caused in our DNA.

What you place in your body today, what we put into the water or air, is changing RNA; a child’s high fat diet will contribute to diabetes in their grandchild. Our actions alter both civilization and our evolution. Consider that and consider resolving to make the changes positive ones, and ... Have a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.


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