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Human Aquatic Evolution and Phytoplankton DHA

December 6, 2010
Cyprus, Aphrodite's birthplace

According to Greek Myths, this is the birthplace of Aphrodite...from the sea

Elaine Morgan says, we evolved out of the aquatic ecosystem, we did not descend from apes living in trees. Have a look at her presentation…..



….Lovely , isn’t it? Beside the main message, there are many questions that result from her presentation to ponder about…

In a different context, more philosophical and packaged in a beautiful poem, and I really don’t know if he referred to evolution, my favorite physicists by far, Richard Feynman, uttered:

There are the rushing waves…
mountains of molecules,
each stupidly minding its own business…
trillions apart
…yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages…
before any eyes could see…
year after year…
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?
…on a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest…
tortured by energy…
wasted prodigiously by the sun…
poured into space.
A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea,
all molecules repeat
the patterns of another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves…
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity…
living things,
masses of atoms,
DNA, protein…
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle
onto dry land…
here it is standing…
atoms with consciousness
…matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea…
wonders at wondering… I…
a universe of atoms…
an atom in the universe.

As a biologist (but more tuned to chemistry, physics and math), I never intuitively doubted that, evolutionary, coming out of an aquatic environment was true. Just review our embryonic stages and keep in mind the other paradigm that says ‘ontogeny repeats embryology’: lots of aquatic life stages which we go through, not much stages looking like a training for climbing trees in your mother’s womb…

As in many of my posts, it often takes while before I close the circle and introduce what phytoplankton has to do with the topic I write about. Here it is:

Phytoplankton are the synthesizers of a special class of long chain poly unsaturated fatty acids, the so called omega-3 fatty acids. The phytoplankton’s biochemical factory can take a fairly short chain of carbon molecules which, using a class of enzymes known as elongases, it can glue molecules in groups of two to the chain and make it longer. By all practical measueres, phytoplankton are the only source that introduce these omega-3 fatty acids in the oceanic feed web/chain – eventually ending in species like fish….and for anyone eating the fish, like man, in this highest level predator as well.

Humans cannot make omega-3 fatty acids, and a healthy development through our early child development is only possible if these fatty acids are in our diet, especially DHA (docosahexanoic acid). Now, if DHA is so quintessential, we would might as well have evolved a gene ourselves to make it, but if the substance is plenty available in the environment where we evolved, there is much less need to have such an enzyme.

So I have a question to any molecular biologist who reads this blog: do chimpanzees, orang otangs or gorilla’s have a gene that allow them to synthesize DHA? Whereas we humans don’t have it?? Not many fishes in the trees, and there may not be enough opportunities to find nuts in the soil below on the savanna that have some omega-s’s in their oil…


Whatever the answer, one outcome of a global development of seawater based Marine Agriculture is that there will be plenty of DHA for everyone. We then really don’t need to get it anymore from by-catch of open ocean fisheries.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 3, 2011 9:55 PM

    pass it on

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