Research on lactose tolerance

An EU-funded project, called LeCHE (Lactase persistence and the early cultural history of Europe), coordinated by Uppsala University (Dr Anders Götherström) in Sweden started last year to study when and where the capacity to drink and tolerate milk emerged and what it entailed.

Lactose tolerance, which provides the ability to drink milk as an adult, varies across countries. In northern Europe, it is widely disseminated. However, in the rest of the world the ability to digest milk drops off sharply after infancy. The persistence of lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) is a genetic trait that appears to have emerged towards the end of the Stone Age. By around 7,000 B.C., European populations were farming and breeding domesticated animals.The oldest pottery shards shown to contain milk were found in southeastern Europe, more precisely in what today is northeastern Greece. It is assumed that the mutation once grew common there and then became fundamental to the development of agrarian culture. The question of just where this ability arose and how it spread has spawned various theories. By gathering 15 research teams with different specializations in genetics, organic chemistry, and archeology, it will hopefully now be possible to find out what the truth really is.

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Date : 05.15.2009