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Humans Evolving 100 Times Faster Than Ever 584

John Hawks writes "A new genomics study in PNAS shows that humans have been evolving new adaptive genes during the past 10,000 years much faster than ever before. The study says that evolution has sped up because of population growth, making people adapt faster to new diseases, new diets, and social changes like cities. Oh, and I'm the lead author. I've been reading Slashdot for a long time, and let me just say that our study doesn't necessarily apply to trolls."
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Humans Evolving 100 Times Faster Than Ever

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  • Time scales (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @07:00AM (#21653537)
    A question for Professor Hawks:

    An interesting result to be sure, and not far-fetched at all, considering things like Belyaev's silver fox research from the mid-20th century, where artificial selection was shown to greatly accelerate the evolutionary process in terms of behavior.

    My question, though, concerns the time scale of accelerated human evolution over the past 10,000 years versus the apparently much faster rate of "evolution" of technology. Some have argued that technological advancements stunt evolutionary change by reducing the severity of natural selection pressures such as the ability to provide food for oneself or to make contact with a mate. (For example, my vision, while corrected to normal levels through the technology of lenses, would have made my chances of reproduction several hundred years ago even lower than they are now.)

    Since technology progression has increased to such a fast rate in the past 100 to 200 years, has the rate of technological improvement outstripped the capability of evolutionary processes to keep up? Will we see a decrease in the rate of evolution during very recent history (and, er, future history) due to this increasing difference in time scales, i.e., was the accelerated evolution rate during the past 10,000 years due in part to technological advancement reaching a sort of "sweet spot" that has since been (or will be) surpassed?

    Not that any of this will matter once our new robotic overlords take over the planet, but it's still academically interesting.
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @07:09AM (#21653575) Journal
    Evolution is most likely encouraged by viruses. The reason is that they will grab a snippet from one person (and other entity), and insert it into our genomes. Almost certainly we have only found a fraction of these viruses, and will find more once we start looking in the right places. The interesting thing is that as we get denser in terms of population, I believe it will increase even faster. Likewise, we will see interesting issues such as general increase in miscarriages (incompatable genes being spread around).
  • Re:Not anymore (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuickFox ( 311231 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @07:14AM (#21653603)
    This does not make evolution slower.

    Mutations that in earlier times were fatal are now viable. They may now lead to offspring. So these mutations will live on more than before. We have more mutations surviving and spreading, we have more diversity, not less.

    Among this diversity, a few will be a leap ahead. Just like we can have a mental genius with a physical disability, who could not survive in an earlier age but can survive today, similarly we can have evolutionary changes that are in some way a leap forward but come combined with disability, able to survive today. Later recombinations through procreation might keep the leap forward while overcoming the disability.

    The probability is of course low, but that's the case with all evolution through random mutations. You need long time spans.

    With a greater diversity we should have faster evolution.
  • by Henry V .009 ( 518000 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @07:49AM (#21653791) Journal
    I am friends with one of the researchers involved, and yes they are quite aware of the non-PC consequences of this paper (just look up the USATODAY article for a good quote). Come on, Cochran is the same guy who wrote the Ashkenzai paper that hit Slashdot a couple years back, about selection for intelligence in Ashkenazi Jews.
  • by Anomolous Cowturd ( 190524 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @08:08AM (#21653907)
    The fittest specimens will still get the best mates, and the losers will get to bonk only other losers. Someone with one or two serious defects might get to shag someone else with only one or two serious defects, but their offspring, with a cluster-fuck of defects, will be increasingly less likely to reproduce. We can still ensure they have a good quality of life, however, their patent genetic crappiness will make "being allowed to reproduce" moot. Fuck authoritarianism, we don't need it.
  • I dispute your point (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sentientbrendan ( 316150 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @08:32AM (#21654061)
    that selection pressure has decreased. People have *fewer* children since the invention of industry and medicine, not more. Virtually all industrialized nations including the US reproduce at or below replacement rate. Immigration is largely what keeps populations from dipping, and countries that lack significant immigration do see decreases in population.

    It is true that people are dying young less, but that doesn't mean that selection pressure has decreased, it has just changed.

    Think about what sort of basis people are allowed to reproduce on now, and ask yourself what the likely outcomes are. There are a number of factors. People who are too uneducated or dumb to practice birth control are reproducing at a significantly higher rate than the educated population. People who are more physically attractive are more likely to find mates in general. Now that second point isn't really a problem as attractiveness is connected to health. However, let's look at the things that are no longer selected for.

    While in the past people with wealth and power tended to be selected for, and poor families tended to slowly die off, especially in feudal societies, this is no longer true as the wealthy tend to be educated and thus practice birth control. This might be good from a social justice picture, but it also means that intelligence has virtually no way of being selected for any more. After all, if intelligence didn't select for itself by helping to acquire wealth in human society, how did it select for itself?

    The main question is now, is intelligence in any way still being selected for? If it isn't, then it seems likely that there will be a backwards slide in human intelligence until the situation changes.
  • Re:adaptation? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by damaki ( 997243 ) * on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @08:40AM (#21654123)
    Well... []
  • Re:adaptation? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @08:40AM (#21654127)

    It's happening in your good old US of A. By the very same folks funding the turkish guys.

    Clean up your own garbage before criticising others'.
  • Re:adaptation? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @09:04AM (#21654285) Homepage
    I'm starting a new post because I'd like to respond to all 3 posts. All of them are irrelevant to the subject at hand. This is not about abortion, but about merely stating that the earth is older than 5000 years.

    Muslims kill you for that
    Christians don't

    I do not claim that Christians are perfect, I am solely interested in the truth. The semi-relevant article is about a single nutcase, acting CONTRARY to the wishes of a Christian "extremist" group, to say it is a corner case is beyond a mere understatement.

    In muslim countries it is not an understatement to say that critical opinions will get you killed. It's a fact, and several states have made this their default policy (amongst many others, indonesia, pakistan, saudi, iran, UAE, ...), because of it being an essential part of the muslim religion to execute critics (quran 5:33 clearly states that execution is the only punishment for any criticism, you will, however hard you try, find no equivalent in the bible)
  • Re:Not anymore (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tuj ( 303347 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @09:21AM (#21654433) Homepage Journal
    No one is talking here about REAL evolution. Mutations alone do not constitute real evolution. Random changes that serve no benefit over time are simply random. Natural selection pressures sort through this randomness and identify what's good and what's bad.

    That's all fine, except that for the last ~300 years or so we've slowly defeated natural selection through better medicine, health, and living. Thus with no pressures to kill off people like me who can't see without glass, I'm able to contribute my bad sight genes on to more and more people.

    Everyone seems to be missing the point that we have defeated natural selection, and that is poised to continue indefinitely unless there is a major and massive plague that is only non-lethal in those with natural resistance; ie. some outbreak that science can't deal with.

    Of course, what this means is that while our randomness is increasing through diversity, there is no selection criteria to evaluate what genes are useful and should be passed on. There has been a disturbing rise in genetic defects and other childhood diseases like autism, and while the cause for this is not clear, its very possible that our genetic diversity has led to predispositions for more and more problems.

    The crux of all this is that humans will eventually need to assume responsibility for the selection process, since we consider it immoral to let nature do it for us. If we fail to do this, organisms that can truly EVOLVE at a much faster rate (bacteria, viruses) will always threaten us, as we've already seen from the antibiotic-resistant strains and mutating HIV virus.
  • Re:Time scales (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John Hawks ( 624818 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @09:28AM (#21654491)
    Progression of technology:

    Here's the thing: that change that makes it OK for you (and me) to wear eyeglasses releases us from selection to some extent against myopia. But by itself that would only cause a very slow, slow response -- mutations that harm vision won't increase quickly under drift alone. But any genes that are selected for other reasons and have the side effect of myopia may increase much more rapidly. These new selected variants are what we are finding, and they relate to many so-called "diseases" of civilization.

    All selection cares about is mortality and fertility. Within the past 200 years, mortality variation has reduced in many human populations. But fertility variation hasn't -- if anything, it may be increasing. So selection for disease resistance -- one of the largest sources in the last 10,000 years -- has probably reduced in importance. But selection on fertility -- things like sperm production, for example -- may still be increasing.
  • Re:...huh (Score:2, Interesting)

    by aadvancedGIR ( 959466 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @10:06AM (#21654855)
    OTOH, cancer could be one of the million proofs that God is a very dumb designer.
  • Re:Not anymore (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Chris whatever ( 980992 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @10:26AM (#21655097)
    until i get gills, eyes at the back of my head, lose my small finger and small toe and get wings,,,,,i will not say that humans have evolved.

    To me the % of intelligent people has decrease, now just a few thinks and the other part uses the products of the few.

    in the past everyone had to know how to build, create, use and make everything they needed to live, nowadays can you brag about being able to make fire out of nothing? build a house all by yourself? make furniture? hunt with a bow or lance? Cook the basics?


  • 1918 flu (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DeadCatX2 ( 950953 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:21AM (#21655731) Journal
    According to this blog, during the 1918 pandemic, the death rate for people aged between 25 and 34 was as high as that for people between 1 and 4 and between 70 and 80

    I believe the reason that pandemic killed the 25-34 age group deals with something called a Cytokine Storm. H1N1 (the 1918 flu virus) infects the lungs, and the body freaks out and starts attacking the lungs with abandon to get rid of the virus. Thus, those in the 25-34 range (with a strong immune system) were more likely than normal to die because that strong immune system turned against them.
  • by skintigh2 ( 456496 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @11:40AM (#21656029)
    Ok, so maybe we are mutating faster, or there are more of us around so there are more mutations, etc. But as I understand: evolution = random mutation + non-random selection. Right now it seems there is no selection at all. Even the impotent and infertile can reproduce now. Unless one gets killed before they become a teen they'll most likely reproduce.
  • Re:adaptation? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:34PM (#21658249)
    |Islam = opression

    That is only partially correct. Actually, Islam means "submission" (to Allah). Same thing basically, just that Islamic apologists often try to do semantic cartwheels around this point.
  • Re:adaptation? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:46PM (#21658513)
    Believe it or not he isn't exaggerating. I come from a country with a large Muslim minority. I assure you, combative rhetoric and confrontational language are what Muslims regard as "meaningful debate". Any criticism of just about anything remotely Islamic to any pious Muslim will earn you a death threat, implicit or explicit. Believe it. Most people who are privately critical of Islam in my country never do so publicly simply out of naked fear for their lives. And this is when they're a minority. Imagine what it is like in countries where they are a majority. There is brutal, systemic oppression of non-Muslim minorities in every Islamic country from Pakistan to Turkey (inclusive). Nothing that modern Xtian fundies have done so far even remotely compares to the massacres of non-Muslims that take place regularly in the house of submission.
  • Re:Evolution? No. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SilentBob0727 ( 974090 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @02:08PM (#21658949) Homepage
    Is this what old earth creationism says? Or is this just scientific ignorance? You can't accept a theory based partly on a wealth of modern-day evidence and then say it doesn't exist anymore.

    Evolution is not how life came into being. It's how life came to be what it is, and how it will come to be what it will be in the future.
  • by DahGhostfacedFiddlah ( 470393 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @02:57PM (#21659935)
    Don't forget that politicians often don't keep their constituents' needs in mind. Depending on the level of stupidity, the stupids could vote in someone who promises to carry them, but instead buys a million pairs of shoes for his wife. No one will object because "God told me to" is a perfectly legitimate answer.
  • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @04:20PM (#21661463)
    I have to be honest. Years ago (I'm 25 now), I was a staunchly against religion in all it's forms. I was all about pure science. I believed in things that could be proven, things that followed the scientific method. Not some silly sky wizard. As I've matured, I've come to believe there might be something more. God? Maybe. Maybe not. Silly as it sounds, I think Futurama nailed it on the head (the episode where Bender is floating through space and has civilization begin, survive, and then collapse on him).

    "When you do things right, no one will know you've done anything at all." ~God, Futurama.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson