[Hae-Joo] Fruits for Evolution: Are Frugivores the Most Advanced Creatures on Earth?

in #science6 years ago

Food, Health, Exercise, Nature, Evolution, Change, Adaptation, Survival, Optimization...


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I have recently made many changes to my diet and experimented with a whole host of foods and food combinations I had never really envisaged doing so ever before. I’ve been inspired by the various philosophies of food, ethical and health arguments made by proponents and advocates of veganism, plant-based diets, fruitarianism, and even by some of the latest reviews of the scientific literature. (In particular the work of Michael Greger.)

Yet the lens I find most interesting to come at the question of health and diet is from the angle of evolution

There are just so many great arguments on every-side, so much critical thinking and fascinating debates raging on; be it in the spiritual, moral & ethical, economic, socio-political, ecological, and even scientific realms. Waow.

But with so much information (and different, diverse, delicious foods) to digest, the journey of self-discovery in crafting “the perfect diet” (though I obviously don’t believe in any one-size fits-all miracle answer) that manages to incorporate all of the planet’s richest and most nutrient-dense plants, in order to build the ideal body and thrive to the furthest possible extent allowed by our individual genetics that work in harmony with the epigenetic & environmental factors that affect our lives, is to say the least, not a quick-fix 2 second process.

In this article, I just want to discuss and compare different views about the best-plant based diet, and where I am leaning more towards right now, and I’m hoping others will chime in and share some perspectives I haven’t considered or lean some supporting evidence in favor of some other ways of looking at this question. Here goes!


What is a Frugivore?


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Okay, so a frugivore is an animal that thrive mostly on raw fruits, succulent fruit-like vegetables, roots, shoots, nuts and seeds. Frugivores have, not surprisingly, evolved in a symbiotic relationship with the plants from which they sustain themselves. What do I mean by symbiotic?

Plants have a pretty basic imperative when it comes to their survival and reproduction strategies. Just like us, they want their offspring to span the furthest ends of the known Earth. That’s what life does: it spreads. But we’ve all heard the saying “The Apple Does Not Fall Far From The Tree”.

This is a problem for plants, creatures not endowed with much ability in the sphere of kinetic energy generation. There’s no guarantee that if their seeds sprout right beneath them that they will be able to grow to their parents’ size. In the Kingdom of Plant Life, even before animal life comes into the picture, competition for Light is fierce. The plants that were best able to capture the largest share of this precious resource did the best, and became the species and varieties that we now have today.

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So how did the smartest, most successful plants figure out how to outcompete the dumber, more banal plant forms of life? They started thinking outside of the box.


For the sake of this article, I'm going to largely exclude aquatic/marine life until the end of the article, just because it's such a completely different kettle of fish to deal with.

This is in my opinion where animals come from, and I always hold very dear to my heart the wise words of Terence McKenna.

“Animals are something invented by plants to move seeds around. An extremely yang solution to a peculiar problem which they faced.”

I couldn’t agree more on this point. It’s clear that most of the insect kingdom evolved specifically to compliment and accelerate the proliferation and evolution of plant-life.

Take the idea of beautiful flowers, their sweet-smelling aromas, their rich-nectar containing pistils and delightfully-colored petals; simply could not exist in a world devoid of animal life, and in particular, insects. There would be no possible advantage to faster-growing weeds that merely concentrated on growing upwards and grabbing a larger share of the sun's energy.

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And because of the advantage that bees, and butterflies, and all of these insects, afforded to these plants, they succeeded where primitive and archaic forms of plants like “moss” and nasty weeds might have covered the entire world otherwise. (Not hating on moss and weeds, but I’m glad some plants evolved to create and develop more complex-ecosystems!)


Fruit-Bearing Plant Life


And this might, in my opinion, bring us to point I wanted to arrive at regarding the highest, most sophisticated order of plant intelligence. This is what we might call the “Fruit-Bearing” plant-forms.

These set of vines, trees, bushes, etc took it a “stem-further” from their flowering, pollen-dependent cousins that still dominate much of the world today.

Their strategy revolved around the dedication of their chlorophyll-generated photosynthesized energy to the production of a fruit that they would pack with such an incredible nutrient and calorie dense food profile that it could eventually sustain much greater and more advanced creatures. Something as clever and socially and physiologically evolved as, let's say for example: an Ape, and perhaps its distant future cousins?

Maybe before we explore the symbiotic relationship between fruit-bearing plants and higher-order animals, we might want to remind ourselves of what plants basically all do.

They convert light energy into biochemical energy, right? That’s why the very first plants were single-celled organisms that developed the ability to photosynthesize, deep in the ocean. From these early organisms came planktons and the rest is history, correct?

Plants are essentially made up of polysaccharides, AKA plant matter that plants make from the energy they get from the sun. Structural polysaccharides such as cellulose (think plant fibers) which makes up the cell-walls of plants (fungi use a different polysaccharide called chitin), and storage polysaccharides such as amylose (starch) and glycogen which are the energy storage mechanisms for plants. It’s definitely more complex than this, but that is the basic picture.

So what makes fruit-bearing plants special then?

I would have to argue that the genius of this miraculous plant-based invention is the fact that by freely giving a part of the sun's energy to animals in the form of easily-digestible, high-energy food, they can essentially make animals into their allies. "Don't eat my branches and leaves. Here: have these tasty fruits that are superior in every way, shape and form."

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It was the plant-kingdom offering an olive branch to the animal-kingdom, saying: "May I have this next dance?"

To further emphasize the awesomeness of fruits as a food-source, let's just look at the way that fruits have differentiated and specified themselves. They can be classified by their biochemical composition: sweet fruits, sub-acid fruits, acid-fruits, starchy fruits, semi-starchy, vegetable-fruits, oily-fruits, and melons.

Each of these kinds of fruits offers particular advantages depending on the surrounding climate, ecology and seasonal temperaments of the surrounding environment.

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So it would seem to me that those fruit-bearing (and not simply seed-bearing) plants seem to have developed quite an array of intelligent strategies to encourage animals to consume their fruits and enter into an interdependent relationship with them. By diversifying their nutritional profiles, some being more high-fat, other high-carb, they may have been able to meet a wider and broader range of nutritional requirements for higher-order animals.

What is perhaps most fascinating, particularly to us humans in this scientific age, might be the incredibly rich and diverse array of phytonutrients made available in various fruits. Many of these phytonutrients possessing some of the world's most potent anti-oxidative properties.

Like all those colorful polyphenols that make up the pigmentation of fruits, and which can delay, if not reverse the oxidative damage incurred by cellular organisms that rely on aerobic means of energetic conversions. And thus, slow-down aging and senescence (and increase longevity) in the organisms possessing these powerful phytonutrients.

Another aspect of plant-life and its various strategies might have to do with the actual biochemical and physical make-up of the plants. Plants are made of polysaccharides, which are rigid structures that are made from minerals and converted sun light energy. These can be very difficult to break down indeed.

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Yes, bacteria and other micro-organisms can break these down with special enzymes that catalyze the decomposition process, but these enzymes are indeed powerful, and would not be appropriate for ever form of life. A few possible reasons this could be so?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that plants basically wish to grow and out-compete their fellow plant-forms of life, so any strategy with an evolutionary advantage will yield to their biological imperative of life.

Therefore, whereas a regular, unevolved plant might simply convert the sun energy into cellulose, and concentrate on frequent reproduction, and not worry too much about anything else, this may at first hand seem like a great strategy, until a meaner, smarter plant came along with a more insidious strategy to out-compete it. Think of grass or moss, compared to a bush, or a tree.

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So what makes the strategy of a bush or a tree smarter? It can grow upwards, and then fan outwards, thereby capturing a bigger share of the sun's light.

But then what would make a fruit-bearing tree's strategy the best of all? Well, for starters, if it were to flower, or even better yet produce a fruit, it could concentrate a certain amount of sugars, fats and proteins in its fruits, making its' fruits' nutrition and calorie (and hence, energy) densely-concentrated part of the plant the fruits and seeds of plants, rather than say, the bark or stems of plants. This is not to say that twigs, branches, leaves and flowers are not, in their own right, nutritious (or even delicious, depending on the critter you ask.)

But actually having animals feast on these parts of the plants does very little for helping reproduction, and actually stunts growth of the plant. Plants don’t want you eating their important parts! (Duh.)

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And this is where fruit-bearing plants began to develop fruits and seeds that would be specifically formulated for higher-order animals that, at least in theory, would be able to move the seeds of these plants across much greater distances. A bee might travel several miles away from its hive, but it will not venture too far. Insect life might try to go a as far as it can, but they are so small and vulnerable that venturing outside a small geographic area might not allow them to adapt or survive, at least as far as a few generations are considered. And though their strength compared to their size is truly staggering, they just simply are ill-suited for more complex actions that other forms of life have been quite remarkably better at performing.

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It really takes something of the order of a vertebrae to really migrate across great expanses of land, and possibly cross vastly-differing geographical and geological distances and climates within very short periods of time.

And if you’re going to cross a frozen tundra or an ocean (even if that ocean is partially connected by ice), you’re going to need a lot of energy. You’re going to need the ability to store that energy on your body and burn in an efficient and conserving manner. You’re going to need the ability to carry significant amount of those calories in dense fats.

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Fruits, in a way, especially given their seasonal nature and the way they come for a period of time offering calorific and nutritional abundance, and then disappear quite quickly making the land much more scarce for quality calories and increasing competition within the eco-system (at least as far as animals are concerned), seem to offer to advanced animals with the capacity to move greater distances a pretty good motivation to always stay on the move to continue the search for this quality source of food (and thus keep increasing the chances of successfully transporting more seeds across greater distances).

If plants could encourage and select for the development of animals who could become efficient at gorging on fruits (taking-in great amounts of calories) when they were available (in a short-period of time), storing a ton of those calories on their bodies (in the form of body-fat), and thus having a greater ability to have enough energy to move across greater distances (and thus transporting some seeds in some manner over greater distances of space and time) either via their retention and dissemination via their stool (seeds with a tough enough cellulose wall that they can pass through the digestive tract intact) or even get stuck in teeth, necessitating being spit out, etc. Well, they could really help out those plants spread further and wide across.

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This is why I believe that as time passed, plants began producing more and more incredibly advanced and fantastic forms of fruits that were easier and easier to transport and to disseminate, and increasingly incredibly nutritious and satisfying for higher-animals. Over great expanses of time, fruits and their seeds became darn right convenient to move around. I believe from the very first berries and small fruit-growths that plants developed for small tree-climbing and land-roaming vertebrae came the much more advanced and specialized kinds of fruits we find in the tropical regions of the world, where plant biodiversity is at its greatest, as is the year-round availability of sun.

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As far as scientists are considered, flowering plants (angiosperms) emerged around the same time as large-terrestrial vertebrae, but these would have been of a much different order of plants than what we have today.

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To see how large a role plant life has played in the evolution of higher-animal life, just take a look at something like a tropical fruits: citrus, bananas, kiwis, and all the fruits that come with such perfect encasings, that opening the fruit and accessing the calories within is as easy as unwrapping a modern-day candy bar. These forms of peels were the basis of containers that were so specialized that nothing from the lower orders of life could even access these plants. No molds, no insects, nothing could get into the marvelously designed outer layer of the world’s best fruits (avocados, papayas, dragon-fruits, pineapples: you name it.)

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Plants could not have invented a better biological and evolutionary incentive for the constant improvement, refinement and perfecting of finer and finer motor skill and central nervous system coordinations.

The very idea of an opposable thumb capable of grasping something in its hand seems so intricately and intimately linked to the notion of gathering and transporting whole fruits in a “hand”.

I mean, just according to your own common sense, what would be the most effective and efficient way for you (some primordial vertebrate having gained access to higher and higher forms of natural building blocks for your evolution to take place) to carry vast amounts of calories?

Moving a bunch of twigs and branches, or leaves? Holding a fistful of grass? Using your mouth, beek, or claws?

Or a bipedal creature with a muscle-mass and musculoskeletal structure that could facilitate easily climbing up and down trees. A vertebra equipped with an upright spine, capable of leaning back and using the forearms in a basket-life shape in a way that they could lean back a bunch of fruits against their chest?

Heck, if you had the makings of any kind of proto-monkey, you could forage enough calories for an entire day of active living from one tree in one trip. Try doing that with grass, branches/twigs, roots, or any other kind of vegetables.

The intelligence is palpable

When you eat fruits, you can spend an entire day eating all the fruits on a tree, get comfortably fat, and move on to the next spot.

As a side note, today we actually train monkeys to pick coconuts for us. A trained capuchin monkey can pick almost 800 coconuts a day and move these around for us. Imagine if we find this useful, how immensely useful this would be for the plant kingdom spirits that were deciding how best to evolve and create a beautiful word in coordination with mother nature below and sky pappy above.


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So here, if the picture I attempted to paint with these words was pleasing or at least coherent to you, is where my musings have taken me; and so I have basically come to the understanding that at least before human beings came around, what can be said for sure, is that fruits were the ultimate source of food on the planet, as can be seen by the fact that the Great Apes basically evolved from a set of mammals that came up basically thriving on their superior calorific and nutritional content.

At the beginning of this post, I hypothesized that frugivores were creatures that had evolved on the most excellent and perfect source of food in the entire world: fruits. And thus frugivores were in essence, the most advanced form of animal life, just as fruit-bearing trees were the most evolved plant life.

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I’m really tempted to surmise (though not ready to conclude), that an animal capable of thriving on fruits, and thus able to live in perfect harmony and symbiosis with the most intelligent and evolved form of plant life on the planet, in an arrangement where the two populations could grow hand-in-hand without ever threatening each other’s survival, seems to be the kind of incremental, tending towards the best of all possible worlds, kind of intelligence that the Universe appear to be all about.

In other words, the kings of the evolutionary game were the fruit-bearing plants and their fruit-eating higher-animal partners who worked together to beat all the other life-forms out. Fruit-bearing plants fostered and nurtured intelligence in the form of better motor skills (hand/eye coordination) amongst many other things.

From these observations, it seems apparent that all vertebrae life seems to have evolved to bring solutions to particular problems that the earlier arthropod (spineless) animal populations were simply ill-designed to improve.

A Few More Thoughts on Evolution

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Though the arthropod populations always existed in symbiosis with the plant kingdom ever since the first multicellular organisms emerged deep under the sea in volcanic vents, the issue of migrating on land posed a significantly different challenge for the progression of life on Earth that would require much more advanced and specialized forms of animal life, capable of surviving on much more diverse and changing climates and environments. (The ocean might be compared to a relatively safer and predictable environment, where things are relatively stable, whereas above on the surface, it might be considered much more hostile to life).

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Yes, initially the arthropod solution was sufficient as insects could help plants move their genetic materials around, but too much and it becomes a problem. Of course arachnids proved to be a class quite uniquely suited at controlling and regulating the arthropod phylum, but they too proved to be insufficient. A much more refined, intelligent, fully-developed class of animals would be required.

The Chordata (vertebrates) phylum, splitting up into Mammalia (Mammals), Actinopterygii (Bony Fish), Chondrichthyes (Cartilaginous Fish) , Aves (Birds), Amphibia (Amphibians) and Reptilia (Reptiles), is just so much more sophisticated and intelligent, and capable of dealing with a much more diverse and specific range of functions and tasks.

The mammal, as exemplified by the destruction of the Dinosaur, and the rise of Man, seems to really be the most intelligent form of life, and the fruit seems to be at the center of his ascent. (Unless of course we are secretly being ruled by off-world reptile forms of life that are much more intelligent than us, in which case, I can really eat my words right now.)

Mammals, like reptiles and birds and fish, do make use of arthropods as a food source, but not merely to the same extent. Maybe eating bugs and spiders and crustaceans all day might make a cold-blooded animal really good at certain tasks, but there’s just not enough interesting stuff going on with bug-like creature to make a long-life possible, and thus for animals of a higher-order to emerge and sustain themselves.

Only plants can ultimately reverse the aging process and determine longevity (Even in the Dinosaur Age, plant-eating reptiles were the biggest, largest and most-long lived.)

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So if fruit-bearing plants are the most intelligent, and frugivores are the most highly-evolved...

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Where does this leave Man?

What makes Us different from the Apes?

What happened during the mythological Fall?

What happened when we were kicked out of the Garden?

What happened when we became Man?


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I'm really hoping that by looking at these questions of foods and building blocks from the perspective of evolution, I might actually to figure out more about what foods I should personally be eating to keep evolving and developing.

The development of agriculture is certainly a really interesting phenomena, from the point of view of plant-consciousness. And the prospects of permaculture forms of agriculture, and all the hybridization of plants and seed that are increasingly taking place thanks to our involvement in the plant-kingdom.

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It's absolutely marvelous, and probably we are currently breeding the plants of tomorrow that are going to allow us to live hundreds if not thousands of years of age...

So look forward to my next post: "The Great Ape Question: Are Humans Still Basically Omnivorous Frugivore Monkeys, Or Are We More?"

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I'll be discussing the ideas of super-foods, sustainable and organic agriculture, and so much more... And sharing some insights about my diet and some anecdotal evidence about how it is affecting my body!


As always

Peace and Love Steemit Family

Hae-Joo

Sources:

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this post is so informative and well researched that the best way I can describe it, is to say it is epic, a word my daughters love to use. I quiet like to see myself as being here to move seeds around, in every sense of the word. Fruit straight from the tree is so full of vitality and this is exactly what we should be consuming.
I look forward to you next post x

Thanks @trucklife-family
I have been learning so much lately it's crazy, but now it's really time to put it all into practice.
I feel so glad
Time has come, all these positive vybrations need to come out :)
Really nice comment =)

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