seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy


Sports Illustrated, Genetics, and Evolution

A few weeks ago, Sports Illustrated ran a fascinating cover story about evolution, genetics, doping, and sports. I think the insights into human evolution will be interesting even to those who are generally uninspired by sports.

It notes that all human are fundamentally built to be distance runners... and they mean distance! In fact, there is an argument that running was fundamental to our human development.

Even our large brains developed because we ran, growing only once our endurance enabled us to gorge on animal fat and protein. We are who we are—the only sweating, largely hairless bipedal mammals—because we ran. As Lieberman puts it, "Endurance running is hardwired into our anatomy and physiology."

The article goes into a great discussion of investigations into why the Kenyan runners have succeeded so well at long distances ... and it seems far more behavioral than genetic.

The discussion turns to brain injuries and what we can predict based on genetic markers and predisposition to slow healing from brain trauma:

The more ApoE has been studied, though, the more it has been associated not only with Alzheimer's but also with the ability of the brain to heal from all manner of trauma. People with ApoE4 variants who hit their heads in car accidents, for example, are more likely to have permanent damage or to die than those who have other variants. And a series of small studies suggests that athletes with ApoE4 variants who get hit in the head are more likely to recover slowly and to suffer greater dementia later in life. It is not entirely clear how ApoE affects brain recovery, but the gene is involved in the inflammatory response of the brain after injury, and people with the ApoE4 variant appear to take longer to clear their brains of a particular protein called amyloid, which floods in following head trauma.

I highly recommend the whole article, but I also wanted to note that our intelligence evolved because of our ability to maintain a high-fat and high-protein diet... from our ability to hunt animals. Those who argue that eating meat is inherently unnatural are wrong. Not only is it tasty - it was essential to our human development. Now, I do agree with those that argue much of our modern meat industrial complex is unhealthy, but that is different from arguing we should simply avoid meat because eating other animals is somehow wrong.

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