Seaweed may have helped early humans evolve: study

Seaweed may have helped early humans evolve: study

 Consumption of seaweed - which contains essential nutrients - may have allowed early humans to evolve and branch out from the primitive hominoid family millions of years ago, a new study has found.

Over the past 2.5 to two million years human brains have gone through the most significant development and as a result modern-day humans are left with an organ that is the source of all the qualities that define humanity.

Our ancestors needed lots of energy-rich foods just to get by and for this impressive, significant brain development they also needed certain essential nutrients, researchers said.

Without nutrients like magnesium and zinc modern brains cannot function and according to a number of scientific studies it is likely that the access to certain essential nutrients influenced the evolution of the human brain so that it could become the brain we have today.

Nutrients needed for this transition from a primitive ancestor to modern Homo sapiens were available in seaweeds.

Seaweeds could be found and harvested in abundance on shores, and for a foraging lifestyle, a rich coastal environment would be a significant source of a consistent supply of these nutrients, said Professor Ole G Mouritsen, from University of Southern Denmark.

Scientists studied the potential impact of consumption of a variety of seaweeds (large marine algae or macroalgae) in human brain health, including benefits to early Homo sapiens.

Researcher found that the human lineage is estimated to have diverged from our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, around five to seven million years ago.

However, the changing patterns of resource distribution associated with the extensive drying and expansion of the African savannahs between 2.5 and two million years ago have been the impetus for a shift in foraging behaviour among early members of the genus Homo.

Foraging over longer distances for food would have contributed to bipedalism and a different body stature as increasingly larger ranges had to be traversed, and in the case of our primitive ancestors, this would undoubtedly lead to significant changes in diet, researchers said.

Coastal areas may very well have attracted early hominoids in search of food.
Our ancestors would find foods like fish, crustaceans, snails, seaweeds, bird eggs and perhaps occasional dead marine vertebrates.

However, they probably did not have the necessary rudimental understanding of seasonal tidal cycles and their influence on shellfish availability.

Seaweeds of different types, on the other hands, can be found all across the intertidal zone from the high water mark to the subtidal regions and they could be readily and repeatedly harvested for food by all family members, including women and children, researchers said.

Seaweed is just as healthy and nutritious for humans today as it was millions of years ago, said Mouritsen. The study was published in the Journal of Applied Phycology.

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