According to a new study published in the Molecular Biology and Evolution journal, the food of choice for our ancestors, insects, could still be eaten and digested by almost all primates today, including humans. We are happy to hear that!
Mareike C Janiak, the author of the study (1), found that almost all living primates still have working versions of the gene (CHIA) needed to produce a stomach enzyme that breaks down exoskeletons of insects. This means that the “yuck” factor that comes with eating insects has nothing to do with nutrition, digestion or evolution.
“As some primates evolved to be larger and more active during the day than at night, their diets shifted a bit to other foods like fruits and leaves,” Janiak said. “Insects became less important and their digestive enzymes changed, but most living primates still have at least one working CHIA gene.” How effectively humans digest an insect’s exoskeleton is still being debated in the scientific literature. “But for humans, even if we didn’t have an enzyme, the exoskeleton becomes a lot easier to chew and digest once the insect has been cooked.”
We are happy that research suggests what we already suspected – the “yuck” factor is not about nutrition but our societal norms and traditions. And those change! Check out our article about lobster and sushi and you will see how. We are doing our best to help change how insects are viewed in the western world. With your help we can make the change!
1) Mareike C Janiak et al., ‘Evolution of Acidic Mammalian Chitinase Genes (CHIA) Is Related to Body Mass and Insectivory in Primates’, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2017, https://academic.oup.com/mbe/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/molbev/msx312/4693806