Humans might be evolving immunity to alcoholism - study

Researchers in the US have found evidence we could be slowly evolving a resistance to alcoholism. But this doesn't mean we'll be able to drink without consequence - quite the opposite, in fact.

Kelsey Elizabeth Johnson and Benjamin Voight of the University of Pennsylvania analysed genetic data from more than 2500 people.

They found a new gene variant that appears to prevent people from becoming dependant on alcohol by making it unpleasant to drink, even in small volumes.

The change to the ADH gene was spotted in five different parts of the world, making it unlikely they were inherited from a common ancestor in the distant past. East Asian and West African populations had the highest chance of having the variant.

But don't assume in future, you'll find resisting a drink easy - that's not how evolution works. It could take thousands, if not millions of years for the gene variant to spread through the population.

And your distant descendant might not be safe either. As many drinkers would know, it can be difficult to resist the lure of alcohol, despite its side-effects.

"Alcohol dependence is a complex human trait - an individual's risk for alcohol dependence is a function of genetic background, environment, and behaviour," Dr Voight told Newsweek.

"The contribution from this specific genetic change has to be viewed in the context of the myriad of other factors that perhaps contribute a lot more."

The researchers suggested the evolution could be the result of heavy-drinking young people dying before they've had a chance to reproduce, leaving non-drinkers behind, reports science news site

Around eight in 10 adult Kiwis are drinkers, according to Ministry of Health statistics. Fifteen percent have a "potentially hazardous" drinking habit.

The research was published in journal Ecology and Evolution.