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Human Evolution is Speeding Up

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posted on Dec, 13 2007 @ 07:44 AM
According to folk wisdom - which is not supported by any scientific evidence - human beings have long since stopped evolving. People reason that civilization and modern science protect human beings from predators and other agents of natural selection to which their wild ancestors were vulnerable, so that nearly everyone, even the physically or mentally handicapped, can live to a ripe old age and reproduce successfully.

I have never accepted this. The way I see it, the artificial environment in which we live exerts numberless selective pressures of its own. Some people survive and reproduce under these pressures more successfully than others*. Thus natural selection still affects human reproduction. Evolution continues.

Now, a new scientific study suggests that not only is human evolution continuing, but that it has been speeding up for the last 20,000 years (roughly the time at which humans began evolving culture) and has been faster in the last 5,000 years than at any time in the past.

The reasons given are the exponential growth of the human population (more genetic variation for evolution to operate on), more interbreeding (the results of large population movements in historic times and, nowadays, of mass private travel) and the effects of culture.

Here is a link to a story on the study. The page contains links to other information sources on the same subject.

What do you feel? Do you agree with the study? Do you think we're evolving faster? In which direction, if any, do you think we're headed? May we even split into more than one species in the future?

And what, if anything, should we be doing about it?


*By the way, 'reproducing successfully' doesn't mean having children; for reasons that become obvious when you think about reproduction from a genetic point of view, it means having grandchildren.

posted on Dec, 22 2007 @ 04:41 AM
This has been hanging around for weeks now. No-one want to discuss the possibility of accelerated human evolution? It's a pretty big story. Even the Economist had an article on it last week:

Darwin's Children

Human evolution has speeded up over the past 80,000 years. That raises awkward questions about the concept of “race”.

Still no takers?

[edit on 22-12-2007 by Astyanax]

posted on Dec, 22 2007 @ 04:44 AM
I fail to see any evidence on the speed of evolution.

[edit on 22-12-2007 by TheoOne]

posted on Dec, 22 2007 @ 05:01 AM

Originally posted by TheoOne
I fail to see any evidence on the speed of evolution.

Well, evolution in large animals (and human beings are very large animals) moves fairly slowly. By definition, evolution is not something you can discern over a single lifetime.

Why not read the links provided? The Economist one is actually rather good because it not only explains the science in pretty simple language, it goes quite deeply into the social and political ramifications of it. Read the links, see what you think, and perhaps we could take it from there.

[edit on 22-12-2007 by Astyanax]

posted on Dec, 23 2007 @ 02:32 PM
I have been feeling that this is true as well, because look at the intelligence of people even as little as 2000 years ago. Most scholars could not comprehend the basics of multiplication and division. in the 1500's if you could do basic math and read and write, you were practically a genius. Nowadays we teach our children complex mathematical properties and theories at very young ages. This would absolutely be attributed to increased rate of evolution.

posted on Dec, 23 2007 @ 11:28 PM

Originally posted by Astyanax
Still no takers?

I go to a number of different forums, so maybe I'm confused, but in one of them there was already a lot of discussion about it. I assumed it was here, but perhaps not. One guy made a good point, that some of the difference we see in different races doesn't really tell us too much. For example, some races of people can't digest dairy very well (they're lactose intolerant I guess is the term). But we don't know whether they evolved into that state, or were always like that, or whether those who can digest dairy, evolved or were always like that. Stating differences between different people's really doesn't tell us that much. Still waiting for homo sapien sapiens, to give birth to a whole new species of humans.

posted on Dec, 24 2007 @ 02:01 AM
If evolution is a force of nature, then there's nothing that the organism can do to change the speed.

The environment can change the speed, in that more niches are created following a near-extinction event, though 'pace' is probably a better term. IOW, it's not a linear thing, I don't think.

In the case of humans, direct genome intervention (gene therapy) could possibly change it, but remember, changes to somatic cells do not necessarily effect the genome.

Most mutations (point mutation) are fatal. Any mutation that is not fatal would be, for instance, a change in the encoding for a protein (or enzyme which is a protein).

If the action of that enzyme is more efficient, then that would be a survivable and possibly sustainable mutation.

Further, if a mutation is recessive then it may take the mating of two organisms that both have this trait for it to survive.

In some cases that makes the change even more fatal (i.e. hemophilia, as seen in the Russian aristocracy)

So it might make more sense to better define the topic, such as evolution of the human mind (which would be somewhat subject and involve thought and action and not a physical change, necessarily).

2 cents.

[edit on 24-12-2007 by Badge01]

posted on Dec, 24 2007 @ 02:26 AM

Originally posted by Badge01
It might make more sense to better define the topic.

How about if we define 'speeded-up evolution' as an accelerated rate of variation in the human genotype resulting from natural selection acting on the progressive increase in outcrossing and recombination driven by population movements and increased individual travel? All taking place over the last 20,000 years or so?

I think that's what the scientists who are talking about this mean.

posted on Dec, 24 2007 @ 03:40 AM
Like many biological and natural systems, I suspect there's a process of 'feedback inhibition' at work. (however see my comment below about probability)

This means attempts to 'speed up' a homeostatic system are down-regulated.

So, in the big picture, I'd be reserved in any such speculation.

Does population movement and increased interbreeding have an effect on natural selection? I don't know.

John Endler, a proponent of evolution theory says, "Natural selection probably should not be called a biological law. It proceeds not for biological reasons, but from the laws of probability."

In addition, these forces don't act upon, nor are they evident in individuals.

Looking at the common examples, evolutionary change, or more precisely speciation occurs when populations are isolated (Galapagos Island).

These ideas seem to be presented by post-Darwinians who are probably not biologists - they're just throwing ideas around a lot of the time.

BTW, accelerated variation in individuals does not necessarily translate into 'evolution' as I believe the term is being used.

Thanks for the comments, though. Interesting topic.

[edit on 24-12-2007 by Badge01]

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