Human evolution accelerating.

Study: Human evolution has sped up enormously in the past few thousand years, making us more different from people who lived in 3,000 BCE than they were from Neaderthals. Why? The stunning rate of population growth in that period has enabled an enormous number of mutations. Natural selection is way more interesting when there’s so much more to select from. The result is that genes that didn’t exist 5,000 years ago are now found in 40% of the human population. Wow!

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

9 replies on “Human evolution accelerating.”

  1. That *is* fascinating, no so much for the findings but for the fact that it pokes the concept of Darwinian evolution (survival of the fittest) in the eye for an alternative interpretation (survival of the most prolific).

    Better study: Did the genetic mutations occur before or after the advent of modern medicine? First or Third World? And what effects would/did something akin to the Black Death have on those rates?

    Next step? We all become X-Men.

  2. Shaun, in natural selection survival of the fittest *is*, basically, survival of the most prolific–these aren’t really alternative explanations. “Fitness” is defined by reproductive consequences.

    A propos of X-Men, I’ve been working my way through Season 1 of “Heroes” episodes. I like the show a lot, but have to grit my teeth whenever Mohinder goes on about “evolution”, as what it means in the show is the basic Hollywoodized New Age glop that has about as much to do with Darwin as Felix the Cat has to do with a CAT scan.

  3. Not true if Felix can scan your thoughts!

    (Ignore the above: that was my over-evolved evil twin writing.)

  4. “Survival of the fittest” is a phrase that I didn’t understand until I finally got around to reading “On the Origin of Species.” I figured “fittest” meant “in the most healthy physical shape,” as it’s used today. What it actually refers to is “fit” in the sense of a puzzle piece. Those creatures who are the best fit for their environment are the ones that will survive and pass on their best-fit genes to their offspring.

  5. Well Shaun, if you gave it some thought wouldn’t you expect that the rate of genetic recombination (reproduction)would effect the rate of evolution? If you really understood the evidence for evolution, you would quit looking for holes, and start advocating that America lead the world in related genetic, anti-viral, and stem cell research.

  6. I too had assumed “survival of the fittest” meant “best adapted for their environment”. The only catch is mass extinction events… there are certain plants that really are best suited to take over the world (as it were), but get choked off by the existing wildlife.

    Until a mass extinction event occurs… then deciduous trees beat back ferns. And another one occurs, and conifers beat out deciduous trees…

    I would agree that fitness and proliferation probably go hand in hand in terms of theory… but short of mass extinction events, some plants which were truly more “fit” for their environment would have never received a chance. It’s some wonder how many species may have died out over millions of years due to the dominance of an existing species.

    Haven’t started watching Heroes (killed my TV, though DVDs still make the rounds in the Kenney household). My brother continues to insist I join the others and become a fan…

    Bubba — I don’t think I need to add too much, eh? :)

  7. The only catch is mass extinction events… there are certain plants that really are best suited to take over the world (as it were), but get choked off by the existing wildlife.

    Righteous, blameless plants, besieged by evil plants (probably crabgrass). Loaded two by two (seven for the edible) upon the Ark, and given salvation from the Flood Mass Extinction.

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