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Hmmm I have a weird craving for liver and fava beans...
Hey hungry fans, Julia here for DNews
Cannibalism: if you’re a Hannibal fan you’re not squeamish around the subject of people
eating other people. But it’s one of the biggest taboos in human history.
But not in nature. Sometimes it’s a family affair. Mothers eat babies, babies feed off
mom: a "mom eats dad". Other times it’s warring factions of the same species, like
chimps in Gombe National Park who ate neighboring group’s offspring as described in a study
published in the journal Nature.
But why don’t humans do it?. Well simply put: it's not socially acceptable… there’s
no real reason why we don’t. But come on, just the thought of it is just… repulsive.
And with good reason, it can cause nasty diseases like prion disease, which we know of as CJ
or mad cow disease.
Prion disease is caused from a misfolding of protein molecules in the brain. Which can
happen for a variety of reasons like a fluke of genetics or eating contaminated meat. The
misfolded proteins will spread until the brain is basically transformed into a "sponge”
riddled with holes! It eats away at memory, causes seizures, and it’s ultimately fatal.
While incredibly rare now, prion disease might have been more common. And this is where things
Prion diseases might be rare now thanks to cannibalism. You see researchers found that
another tribe in Papua New Guinea has a genetic mutation that protects them from prion disease.
The tribe used to practice funerary cannibalism. Where members of the tribe would eat the remains
of the deceased rather than burying it. The men would eat the “best” meat, the meaty
muscles, while women and children ate less good meat, the brain.
Not surprisingly, they were devastated by an epidemic of what they called “kuru”,
a prion disease. At it’s peak in the 1950s, the epidemic killed 2 percent of the population
every year. As the tribe became westernized the cannibalism stopped and kuru began to
fade into memory.
But those that were left behind developed a genetic resistance to prion disease according
to a study published in the journal Nature. The study found that this resistance is the
result of a mutation where the body produces an amino acid valine rather than the more
common glycine. This change prevents proteins in the brain from producing the misfolding
But a similar mutation might have happened before, often. A study published in the journal
Science showed a different mutation in the same tribe that also prevented prion disease
in another way. But more shockingly, they found widespread evidence of this mutation.
It was found in most humans from Europe to Japan. The researchers suggest that most early
humans practiced some form of cannibalism and probably suffered massive epidemics of
prion diseases. And hence, why a large portion of the world’s population has some projection
from these diseases.
But protection from disease isn’t the only um… benefit to cannibalism. In a study published
in the Journal of Human Evolution, researchers found that 800,000 years ago, our ancestors
did, the killed and ate the young of neighboring tribes as part of a territorial defense strategy.
As the young of neighboring group wanders far from home, they might attack and kill
the young as a kind of warning to the other group. This sort of defense strategy can be
seen today in some populations of chimpanzee.
But defense and warfare isn’t the the only reason for cannibalism. Simple hunger might
drive people to dine on their neighbors. Another study published The Journal of Human Evolution
suggested that eating a group member can help conserve energy. One of the lead authors of
the study told Discovery News "The body can give one day off from hunting, which was always
dangerous at that time”. And I mean a human body contains a lot of calories. According
James Cole, a professor on human origins at the University of Brighton puts the calorie
count of a whole human body at about 81,500 calories. So uh yum.
So that’s fun news, eh? Now as you watch Hannibal you can be proud that it celebrates
your heritage. Oh man, nope. Still extremely disturbing. While you might be grossed out
by cannibalism some new moms are eating their placentas. To get the whole sticky scoop,
check out this video right here.
So there you have it folks. Humans… ate other humans. We love to break down the weird
stuff here at DNew, so if you’ve got any weird questions floating around that brain
of yours, leave ‘em down in the comments below.