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As previously suggested10 and as supported by the identification of enzymes mediating NAE biosynthesis and degradation in even elementary forms of life NAEs are phylogenetically ancient. So it could be that, during evolution, when cannabinoid receptors and PPAR- were first used as signal transducers, they found endogenous NAEs and used them as activators. Regardless of the identity of their receptors, however, the lipids key role in the control of food intake and development seems to have been conserved from simple organisms to humans (Fig. 1). Thus, finding the molecular targets of NAEs in C.elegans

should be made a priority, because these proteins might also have been retained in mammals, with potential implications for medical research in ageing, obesity and associated metabolic disorders. Luciano De Petrocellis and Vincenzo Di Marzo are in the Endocannabinoid Research Group, Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry and Institute of Cybernetics, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Via Campi Flegrei 34, 80078 Pozzuoli (NA), Italy. e-mail:

1. Fontana, L., Partridge, L. & Longo, V. D. Science 328, 321326 (2010). 2. Lucanic, M. et al. Nature 473, 226229 (2011). 3. Devane, W. A. et al. Science 258, 19461949 (1992). 4. Matias, I., Bisogno, T. & Di Marzo, V. Int. J. Obes. 30, S7S12 (2006). 5. Fu, J. et al. Nature 425, 9093 (2003). 6. Berdyshev, E. V. et al. World Rev. Nutr. Diet. 88, 207214 (2001). 7. Kilaru, A. et al. Chem. Biodivers. 4, 19331955 (2007). 8. Elphick, M. R. & Egertov, M. Handb. Exp. Pharmacol. 168, 283297 (2005). 9. Pertwee, R. G. et al. Pharmacol. Rev. 62, 588631 (2010). 10. McPartland, J. M., Norris, R. W. & Kilpatrick, C. W. Gene 397, 126135 (2007).

less varied diet and more disease, to say nothing of the social stresses of moving from group food-sharing to household-based production. They have variously proposed triggers such as climate change, population pressure and social competition, or combinations of all three, but There were probably many reasons for the adoption of agriculture by prehistoric they have at least agreed that in most situations human societies. A fresh perspective comes from a quantitative estimate of the farming would have been more productive relative productivity of farming and foraging. than foraging. Bowles1 has added further sauce to the rich mix of theories. His analysis of ethnographic GRAEME BARKER transformations in social complexity that led and historic figures for foragers and farmers in within a few millennia to urbanism. traditional societies (that is, using hand tools) he origins of agriculture are among Ethnographic studies in the 1960s dra- suggests that the average productivity from culthe big questions about the human matically changed perceptions of farmings tivating seed plants (he doesnt deal with tubers) past that archaeologists have grappled advantages over foraging: even in a marginal is about three-fifths of the return from foraging with throughout the history of the discipline. environment such as the Kalahari desert, for- wild species. In response to the question why A study by Samuel Bowles, published in Pro- agers had a secure food base, and to exploit it did the first farmers farm?, he proposes that ceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, worked fewer hours than most farmers need many foragers might well have been attracted to shows that cultivating cereals was not just to do in non-industrial societies4. In recent undertake some small-scale farming because it harder work than hunting and gathering, decades, therefore, archaeologists have theo- just meant forgoing those wild plants or animals but was probably less productive. So why did rized about the processes that might have with the lowest calorific return rate. Indeed, foragers become farmers? persuaded foragers to become farmers, even there are many archaeological examples of For decades, most archaeologists have though farming probably meant more work, a foragers who engaged in cultivating plants agreed that the first farming the Neoand/or herding animals for many cenlithic Revolution in Gordon Childes turies before developing a significant famous phrase2 began soon after commitment to farming. the transition from the Pleistocene But why develop such a committo the Holocene climatic eras some ment if the returns from farming were 12,000 years ago, in a few hearths of likely to be lower than those from fordomestication such as southwest Asia, aging? Bowles concludes that foragers China and parts of the Americas; and might have been drawn into farming that over the next few thousand years a because becoming more sedentary variety of agricultural systems replaced would have lowered the costs of child foraging (hunting and gathering) in rearing and inevitably stimulated popalmost every corner of the globe. As ulation growth, and because producing revolutions go it may have taken sevsurplus food meant increased poseral thousand years, and developed sibilities for social competition. Both piecemeal across the globe, but it are arguments that would be familiar remains one of the most extraordinary to Childe, but they still remain more transformations in human history3. descriptions of what might have hapSo why did most foragers decide to pened than explanations of why people become farmers? Childe emphasized took the decisions they did. the advantages of farming over forMost theorizing about the oriaging: it gave people a reliable food gins of agriculture has started from supply, allowing them to settle down, the premise that contemporary or and this, in combination with the pos- Figure 1 | Planting rice in Borneo. Today rice is a staple crop on ethnographic examples of modsibilities farming created for producing which millions of people depend. But for many prehistoric societies ern traditional foraging and farmsurplus food, provided the springboard its role as a high-status, special food may well have been more ing societies are likely guides to how for global population growth and important than its dietary contribution. late Pleistocene and early Holocene

The cost of cultivation

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societies may have functioned in the past, but archaeology increasingly reveals a complicated and ambiguous past another country in which people did things differently. Late Pleistocene foragers in the islands of southeast Asia were burning vegetation to enhance plant productivity 50,000 years ago5,6 and Upper Palaeolithic reindeer hunters had domesticated dogs 30,000 years ago7. People in the Near East and China were cultivating wild cereals for thousands of years before the plants acquired the morphologies of modern domesticated crops8,9. In North Africa, the wild Barbary sheep was herded 500 years before people acquired domestic sheep and goats10. There are other examples of experiments in managing animals and plants that failed to survive into modern farming. In many early farming societies, the domesticates, and the material culture associated with them (such as sickles in the case of the first cereals in the Near East), were embedded in elaborate social and ritual behaviours, suggesting that motivations for acquiring and using new food resources were highly variable and rarely simply a matter of dietary stress or opportunity11,12. In Borneo, for example, rice was used on a small scale for thousands of years by people who relied on hunting and the management of palms and tubers; difficult to grow and high risk, rice only became a food staple there a few centuries ago (Fig. 1). But before that, it almost certainly had a critical social role as a high-status special food with magical properties13. It is probably illusory to expect some kind of systematic global causality for the first farming14 people adopted new technologies and foods in many different ways, at many different timescales, and surely for widely differing reasons. Bowless paper1 is further evidence that we should not impose Enlightenment notions of rationality on decision-making by prehistoric foragers. Such decisions had many unintended consequences, often ones that in time changed the social landscape irrevocably and made once-optional additions to forager lifestyles obligatory components of new ways of living. Graeme Barker is in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK. e-mail:
1. Bowles, S. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 47604765 (2011). 2. Childe, V. G. Man Makes Himself (Watts, 1936). 3. Barker, G. The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why Did Foragers Become Farmers? (Oxford Univ. Press, 2006). 4. Lee, R. B. & DeVore, I. (eds) Man the Hunter (Aldine, 1968). 5. Barker, G. et al. J. Hum. Evol. 52, 243261 (2007). 6. Summerhayes, G. R. et al. Science 330, 7881 (2010).
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7. Germonpr, M. et al. J. Archaeol. Sci. 36, 473490 (2009). 8. Fuller, D. Q. Ann. Bot. 100, 903924 (2007). 9. Jones, M. K. & Liu, X. Science 324, 730731 (2009). 10. di Lernia, S. in Before Food Production in North Africa (eds di Lernia, S. & Manzi, G.) 113126 (ABACO, 1998). 11. Barton, H. Curr. Anthropol. 50, 673675 (2009).

12. Finlayson, B. & Warren, G. (eds) Landscapes in Transition (Oxbow, 2010). 13. Barker, G., Hunt, C. & Carlos, J. in Why Cultivate? Anthropological and Archaeological Approaches to ForagingFarming Transitions in Southeast Asia (eds Barker, G. & Janowski, M.) 5972 (McDonald Inst. Archaeol. Res., 2011). 14. Fuller, D., Allaby, R. & Stevens, C. World Archaeol. 42, 1328 (2010).


Keep your feet on the ground

Some complex problems in physics can be recast as finding the ground state of an interacting quantum system. Not getting excited along the way can be the challenging part. See Letter p .194

nformation processing based on quantummechanical interactions has the potential to yield a new and powerful set of computational tools and capabilities. In essence, replacing the classical bits of information in todays electronic devices with quantum bits (qubits) enables a computation to proceed on the basis of the rules of quantum mechanics. As one might surmise, however, if the quantum nature of this computational evolution were somehow corrupted along the way, the entire computation would be brought into question. On page 194 of this issue, Johnson et al.1 demonstrate that the evolution of a superconducting system of eight qubits is indeed consistent with the principles of quantum mechanics when a particular protocol called quantum annealing is implemented. The solution for certain, challenging, optimization problems can be determined from the ground (minimal-energy) state of a system of interacting spins. Finding this ground state is itself a computationally demanding problem, and a form of adiabatic quantum computation called quantum annealing is one proposed means to do it2,3. Conceptually, an adiabatic process works as follows. The system starts in a known ground state with the interactions between neighbouring spins effectively turned off. The interactions are then slowly turned on such that the system evolves adiabatically that is, without ever leaving its instantaneous ground state during this evolution2. If the system is never excited, always remaining in the instantaneous ground state, then it will surely end in the final, desired interacting ground state and we have the answer. To illustrate how this process unfolds, consider a corrugated egg carton, with the ridges and furrows creating potential wells, and an egg placed in one of these wells.
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As the interactions are turned on, the egg carton slowly changes shape (never so fast that it jostles the egg into an adjacent well), and one of the wells becomes deeper than the others; this deeper well is the true ground state. A quantum egg will keep its cool and quantum mechanically tunnel through the ridges to reach this global minimum, whereas a classical thermal egg must resort to jumping excitedly over them. In the language of quantum annealing, the system continuously seeks the lowestenergy configuration by means of quantum tunnelling mediated by quantum fluctuations. This process should be distinguished from classical thermal annealing, in which thermal fluctuations lead the way. In their study, Johnson et al.1 employ a onedimensional Ising spin system, a chain of eight spins which can interact with one another in a nearest-neighbour pairwise manner. The spins are realized with superconducting flux qubits4, manufactured artificial spins whose values spin-up and spin-down correspond to clockwise and counter-clockwise circulating superconducting currents, which are respectively associated with the left and right wells of the qubits potential energy diagram (Fig. 1). The authors went to great lengths to make the various qubit parameters tuneable, so that they could carefully calibrate the settings for each individual spin, as well as tune the spinspin coupling strength and its sign (negative for ferromagnetic coupling and positive for anti-ferromagnetic coupling). To demonstrate the distinction between quantum and thermal annealing, Johnson et al. leveraged ideas from the domain of macroscopic quantum tunnelling5,6. Consider first a single qubit and its double-well potential. The qubit starts in a symmetrical configuration with a low-potential tunnel barrier and an equal population in both wells that is, with equal probability for spin-up or spin-down