Big brains, meat, tuberculosis, and the nicotinamide switches: co-evolutionary relationships with modern repercussions?
Williams AC., Dunbar RIM.
Meat-eating was a game changer for human evolution. We suggest that the limiting factors for expanding brains earlier were scarcities of nicotinamide and tryptophan. In humans and some other omnivores, lack of meat causes these deficiencies. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) is necessary to synthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP) via either glycolysis or via the mitochondrial respiratory chain. NAD consumption is also necessary for developmental and repair circuits. Inadequate supplies result in "de-evolutionary" brain atrophy, as seen with pellagra. If trophic nicotinamide/tryptophan was a "prime mover" in building bigger brains, back-up mechanisms should have evolved. One strategy may be to recruit extra gut symbionts that produce NADH precursors or export nicotinamide (though this may cause diarrhea). We propose a novel supplier TB that co-evolved early, which did not originally and does not now inevitably cause disease. TB has highly paradoxical immunology for a pathogen, and secretes and is inhibited by nicotinamide and its analogue, isoniazid. Sharp declines in TB and diarrhea correlated with increased meat intake in the past, suggesting that dietary vitamin B3 and tryptophan deficiencies (also associated with poor cognition and decreased lifespans) are still common where meat is unaffordable.