“Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, And How We Live” By Marlene Zuk
What is Paleofantasy? We define paleofantasy as a fantasy about how things were in the distant or geological past. Recently I read a book called “Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live”, by Marlene Zuk, and she explains in depth about how evolution actually works much faster than we realized. Many people argue that we have finished evolving, however, Zuk points out many things throughout her book that that is not the case and that we’ve never actually stopped evolving. She points out many factors focusing on our lifestyle, sex and diet proving that we aren’t suited to our environment leading towards evolution. These factors also prove that we have adapted to our environment, which is proof of evolution occurring.
In this book you will also find how Zuk uses information on what we know about our ancestors to have a better understanding of how we have evolved into what we are now and towards our future. Like the book says, evolution is about change, and every organism is full of trade-offs (Zuk, 2014). We just have to be able to see these changes to understand evolution and how we have adapted to these changes. After reading this book, I wanted to focus on some of the points Zuk has talked about that I really agreed towards her understanding that evolution has never stopped. It is our ability to adapt around these changes in the environment that makes this the process of evolution.
One of the chapters I would like to talk about is chapter four, “The Perfect Paleofantasy Diet: Milk.” In this chapter Zuk explains the ability to digest lactose, but to understand this concept, she goes back to explaining the domestication of cattle and the biology. We all know that in order to digest lactose, we must have the lactase enzyme in our system. But the real question she argues is how did majority of the people now have become lactase persistence? Scientists have determined lactase persistence is a dominant trait, which states that it can be passed down to the offspring with only one copy of the gene (Zuk, pg. 74). Due to how easily it can be passed down and the number of people having the ability to digest lactose, pretty much proves that evolution exists.
As our environment continues to develop and grow, people in general adapt to their circumstances, which makes the ability to digest lactose a great example. Erin Wayman from Science News wrote a little brief review about this book and also agrees that since domestication began and agriculture spreading, people have developed adaptations that allowed them to digest milk as adults (Wayman, 2013). According to this video I watched of Zuk giving a lecture about the book, she explains when people started herding cattle, began to digest milk advantageous, lead to lactase persistence, made lactase persistence become more prevalent, which made it selected for more cattle herding (Harvard Museum of Natural History, 2014). This is what we call gene – culture coevolution, the product of two different interacting evolutionary processes.
Another chapter I would like to focus on is chapter nine, “Paleofantasy: In Sickness and Health.” In this chapter, it really caught my attention because it goes in depth about our resistance to diseases have evolved. After reading this chapter, it made me think about my lifestyle and actions that may or may not have helped me build a resistance to certain diseases. However, it also makes me wonder that since our life expectancy has greatly increased, aren’t we bound to have more diseases as we age? I think this because as we age, we tend to get sick easier, which then leads to diseases, and depending on if there may be a cure or treatment, we become healthy again in order to continue our growth. This clearly sounds like in order to live a longer life, we are bound to have diseases or get sick.
As we get certain diseases, certain people build up a biological characteristic that improves reproduction and/or survival (fitness). One great example that Zuk talks about is malaria and John Hawks explains that malaria is one of the examples that prove recent adaptation towards environmental shifts. He states that malaria has influenced many genetic adaptations in tropical people the past few thousands of years (Hawks, 2013). We all know that malaria is a disease caused by a plasmodium parasite and it is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. However, we discovered that only specific people that carried the sickle cell anemia disease were resistant to malaria.
I believe this book provides great information that we need to know about our ancestors, biology, and evolution. There were many points that Zuk pointed out that either I have forgotten about or never came in mind to question about. One thing I really liked about this book is that it combines all these three types of information into one whole book with a very detailed explanation behind each topic and factor. Furthermore, I believe that her real message behind this book is that all the evolution that occurred till now, it is unintentional. There isn’t any specific goal behind evolution, which is why no organism or we has never stopped evolving. Her specific words were, “No organism gets to a point of perfect adaptation, heaves a sigh of genetic relief, and stops” (Zuk, pg. 202).
Another strength I noticed throughout this book is how Zuk provides statistical information on evolution itself. She provides specific percentages that focus on the topic and how it relates to evolution. For example, she talks about how there is a certain percentage that distinguish us differently between chimpanzees, and just that small percentage, it is very crucial to helping us determine the differences (Zuk, pg. 48). Not only does she provide this statistical information, she also incorporates it within learning the knowledge with our ancestors, chimpanzees, bonobos, and many more. By incorporating all these into one, it is very easy to grasp the concept and topic she wants for the reader to focus and understand about.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to someone because of the descriptive language the author uses to help her explain her understanding of evolution, biology, and history of our ancestors. More importantly I believe the information the book provides other students should learn it as well. Especially when evolution itself is very broad and not everyone knows about evolution down to its core. Furthermore, she focuses mainly on our lifestyles, diets, and sex, to determine how these factors incorporate with evolution for us to adapt to the way we are now compared to our ancestors. Like Zuk states, “everything about evolution is unintentional” (Zuk, pg. 175). Also this book makes me want to research more about evolution and what other adaptations that have occurred that we are unknown about.
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What is Paleofantasy? We define paleofantasy as a fantasy about how things were in the distant or geological past. Recently I read a book called “Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells […]