We are known for our monkey love and for our Lucy love; but yesterday the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology revealed the reason we are able to outlive our ape relatives:  We have a meat-adaptive gene and they do not.

Comparing the life spans of humans with other primates, Caleb Finch, ARCO & William F. Kieschnick Professor in the Neurobiology of Aging in the USC Davis School of Gerontology, explains that slight differences in DNA sequencing in humans have enabled us to better respond to infection and inflammation, the leading cause of mortality in wild chimpanzees and in early human populations with limited access to modern medicine.

Specifically, humans have evolved what Finch calls “a meat-adaptive gene” that has increased the human lifespan by regulating the effects of meat-rich diets. ApoE3 is unique to humans and is a variant of the cholesterol transporting gene, apolipoprotein E, which regulates inflammation and many aspects of aging in the brain and arteries.

“Over time, ingestion of red meat, particularly raw meat infected with parasites in the era before cooking, stimulates chronic inflammation that leads to some of the common diseases of aging,” Finch said.

However, another expression of apolipoprotein E in humans — the minor allele, apoE4 — can increase the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease by several-fold, Finch explained. ApoE4 carriers have higher totals of blood cholesterol, more oxidized blood lipids and higher rates of early onset coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

“The chimpanzee apoE functions more like the “good” apoE3, which contributes to low levels of heart disease and Alzheimer’s,” Finch said. Chimpanzees in captivity have unusually low levels of heart disease and Alzheimer-like changes during aging when compared to humans.

The study goes on to explain the average lifespan of apes and chimpanzees in captivity is rarely longer than 50 years and that humans generally live twice as long as wild chimpanzees and apes in the wild.

I wonder what this means for strict Vegetarians and Vegans?  Are we more ape-like than human because we are not red meat eaters and our lifespan will diminish over time? 

Or are we already genetically coded with the meat-adaptive gene that will protect us from an early grave even though we eat like the apes?


  1. That’s a good link to read. The new research suggests there may be a form of “meat-eater gene therapy” that could be provided the captive apes to help them live longer, too.

  2. I wonder how a chimp would react if you served him a steak. I can’t help but think that we as humans aren’t fully equipped for meat based on how many cancers are linked to its consumption. I wonder if it is just that we aren’t fully meat-volved? 🙂

  3. I don’t think the chimp would eat the steak. If they were truly meat eaters they wouldn’t mind eating each other. I agree there are lots of bad things in red meat today, but way back in antiquity when we hunted and ate raw meat, the “bad things” in that meat were more organic than they are today.

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