It is sad that most sushi lovers will never have real wasabi. I had assumed that I had sampled real wasabi when I spent several days eating sushi morning noon and night in Actual Japan. But even then, there is a good chance I never tasted the stuff.
The reason that most “wasabi” is fake, and the agronomy and chemistry of wasabi, turn out to be really interesting.
I had mentioned earlier that the volcanoes of the Virugna region in the Western Rift Valley (as well as other highland spots) have often been islands of rain forest separated from each other by different habitats, including grasslands and wooded savannas. this has produced an island effect that has been a laboratory for evolution, and it is likely that these forest islands (and others in the greater region of east Central Africa and western East Africa) have been the loci of evolution of many endemic species. (See Island Africa: The Evolution of Africa’s Rare Animals and Plants by Kingdon for an excellent overview of the Island Effect in highland regions of Central and East Africa.)
It is probably not a coincidence that two of the three subspecies of gorilla live within sight of each other (and of the main subspecies, the lowland gorilla) within this region. The Virunga volcanoes are not old enough to have supported island forests for the evolution of these specific subspecies, but other highlands in the region, or other volcanoes (perhaps in the Eastern Rift) may well have been the location in which they evolved.
And, as it turns out, there is reason to believe that the split between chimps and humans occurred on one of these volcanic mountain tops several million years ago. Or, at least, in an environment geologically similar to the upper reaches of the Virunga Volcanoes. But to tell this story right, I have to go back a few years. Continue reading Nyamulagira Volcano and Human Evolution→
Much is made of the early use of stone tools by human ancestors. Darwin saw the freeing of the hands ad co-evolving with the use of the hands to make and use tools which co-evolved with the big brain. And that would make the initial appearance of stone tools in the archaeological record a great and momentous thing. However, things did not work out that way. Continue reading Great Moments in Human Evolution: The Invention of Chipped Stone Tools→
Fallback foods are the foods that an organism eats when it can’t find the good stuff. It has been suggested that adaptive changes in fallback food strategies can leave a more distinct mark on the morphology of an organism, including in the fossil record, than changes in preferred food strategies. This assertion is based on work done by the Grants and others with Galapagos Island finches, by Richard Wrangham and me with hominids, and by Betsy Burr and me with rodents. Continue reading The Potato and Human Evolution→
Many years ago a couple of researchers (Hatley and Kappleman) suggested omnivory, including eating of roots, to be a common theme in the adaptations we see in bears, humans, and pigs. Some years later, Richard Wrangham and I independently and for different reasons came to the idea that roots are potentially important in human evolution, so we collaborated on a paper suggesting this. Subsequently, bits and pieces of data have been accumulating to support this hypothesis (the “root hypothesis”). And here, Jim Moore of San Diego, is reporting on living chimps eating roots in a relatively savanna like environment. As we predicted.
Chimps dig up clues to human past? from PhysOrg.com One of the keys enabling the earliest human ancestors to trade a forest home for more open country may have been the ability to gather underground foods. Now a team of scientists reports for the first time that in Tanzania our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, are using sticks and pieces of bark to dig for edible roots, tubers and bulbs.[…]
The evolution of human diet followed a major zig (as in zig-zag) in a wholly unexpected direction, followed by the most significant biological innovation to ever occur among multi celled animals: The invention of cooking. I’m actually going to point you to two papers on this topic, and provide a brief summary of the ideas here.
Let’s start with the bold assumption that humans evolved from a chimpanzee-like animal. This is tantamount to saying that the last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans was, essentially, pretty much like a chimpanzee. At another time, I’ll write a post on why this is a good assumption, but for now lets just go with it. Some large percentage of human evolution experts like this assumption, a bunch of others hate it (which is the usual pattern for most ideas in human evolution).
A mammal’s diet is reflected in physiological attributes that can be discerned from the fossil record. Body size, the nature of the teeth and associated muscles, possibly the shape of the mouth’s cavity, and even the overall size and shape of the gut may be closely connected with diet.