Preprint Article Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Fermentation Technology as a Driver of Human Brain Expansion

Version 1 : Received: 1 October 2020 / Approved: 6 October 2020 / Online: 6 October 2020 (15:14:56 CEST)

How to cite: Bryant, K.; Hansen, C.; Hecht, E. Fermentation Technology as a Driver of Human Brain Expansion. Preprints 2020, 2020100135 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202010.0135.v1). Bryant, K.; Hansen, C.; Hecht, E. Fermentation Technology as a Driver of Human Brain Expansion. Preprints 2020, 2020100135 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202010.0135.v1).

Abstract

Thesis Statement: The consumption of externally fermented foods acted as the initial metabolic trigger enabling hominid brain expansion. Because brain tissue is metabolically expensive, it is thought that the evolution of humans’ large brains was only possible through a concomitant reduction in the size of another expensive organ system, the gut. However, this gut reduction must have itself been made possible by dietary changes, the nature of which are still unclear. Here, we propose that the initial metabolic trigger of hominid brain expansion may have been the consumption of externally fermented foods. We define “external fermentation” as occurring outside the body, as opposed to the internal fermentation that occurs through the gut microbiome. This practice could have begun accidentally and with limited understanding, but over time, fermentation technologies may have become increasingly intentional, socially-transmitted, and culturally-reinforced. We detail the mechanisms by which external fermentation can mediate the evolution of increased brain size, as well as a reduction in gut size, by increasing the bioavailability of macro- and micronutrients while reducing digestive energy expenditure. Importantly, we calculate that the reduction in human gut size relative to modern apes is mainly due to a reduction in the colon, the site of internal fermentation. We also discuss the explanatory power of our hypothesis relative to others, including realistic plausibility in hominids with brains roughly the size of modern chimpanzees. Finally, we survey external fermentation practices across human cultures to demonstrate its viability across a huge range of environments, temperatures, and food sources. We close with suggestions for empirical tests.

Subject Areas

evolution diet; metabolism; australopith; encephalization; hominin; colon; behavioral ecology

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