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Is Humanity Still Evolving? 374

sciencehabit writes "In a world where we've tamed our environment and largely protected ourselves from the vagaries of nature, we may think we're immune to the forces of natural selection. But a new study finds that the process that drives evolution was still shaping us as recently as the 19th century (abstract). 'The finding comes from an analysis of the birth, death, and marital records of 5923 people born between 1760 and 1849 in four farming or fishing villages in Finland. ... Natural selection was alive and well in all of the villages the researchers surveyed."
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Is Humanity Still Evolving?

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  • K-rist! (Score:5, Informative)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:07PM (#39851097) Journal

    If you have to ask the question, then you don't know what evolution is.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:08PM (#39851111)

    Of course it is. Evolution is determined by who reproduces, not (just) by who dies. Some believe evolution to actually be accelerating, as global mobility increases the mixing of genes from different populations.

  • Duh! (Score:5, Informative)

    by TrumpetPower! ( 190615 ) <> on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:10PM (#39851131) Homepage

    Considering our environment is changing at a radical pace, I'd think it obvious that we're still subject to evolutionary pressures. Now more than ever.

    No, not just climate change -- that's going at a much slower pace than the change in diet, access to medical care, exercise habits, and the rest.

    (What, you thought that a higher proportion of people with genetic diseases surviving to reproductive age somehow doesn't contribute to the change in allele frequency in the human gene pool?)


  • Devo (Score:4, Informative)

    by fwarren ( 579763 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:20PM (#39851273) Homepage

    Question: Are we not men?

    Answer: We are not men, we are Devo []

  • by Epell ( 1866960 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:27PM (#39851351)
    Anybody who studied introductory biology/genetics class knows that for a population to NOT evolve: 1. Mating must be completely random. 2. There must be no selection. 3. There must be no mutation. 4. There must be no migration. 5. Population size must be pseudo-infinitely large. Selection may be arguably weaker (the article argues otherwise) and population size may be big enough, but mating is obviously not random and mutation and migration still happens. Thus, humanity is evolving.
  • by Nemba ( 805178 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:27PM (#39851369)
    No. The article was poorly written, but you missed the point of this research. They were looking at historical records, OF COURSE they didn't expect to actively identify where evolution was taking place. The point is, they can establish that the same conditions which are necessary for evolution everywhere else, were also present in this relatively agricultural/industrialised society, and hence that unless the entire way we think about evolution is wrong, it was also happening here. That's actually more proof than you get in most studies. It's correlational, sure, but the association between sex selection and evolution is so strong that it's stupid to think that this is being "really hopeful that it coulda-shoulda happened".
  • by tixxit ( 1107127 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:42PM (#39851551)
    I wouldn't count on a positive correlation between "resources" and "# of offspring." On a world-wide scale, it actually appears to be the opposite ( [] ).
  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:57PM (#39852829)

    "Name another genetic disease [] that occasionally provides benefits."

    Sickle cell anemia. Obesity. Wisdom teeth. The CCR5 d25 mutation. High melanin production in the skin.

    The mutation for sickle cell anemia also conveys resistance to malaria. Various genes linked to obesity helped our ancestors survive variable food supplies. Wisdom teeth used to be able to kill, but once upon a time would have helped us eat. The CCR5 d25 mutation conveys resistance to bubonic plague and HIV, but susceptibility to West Nile. High melanin production in the skin protects you from sunburn and skin cancer, but, especially if you live at high latitudes, decreases vitamin D production which is associated with a variety of diseases from cancer to multiple sclerosis.

  • by shadowrat ( 1069614 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @08:55AM (#39855975)
    Evolution is not a vector. It doesn't go in any direction. It doesn't work towards a goal. It is just random noise filtered by environmental conditions. As a species, we seem to a developed a curious evolutionary feedback loop. We evolved the intelligence to manipulate and understand our environment in ways that allow more of us to survive. Consequently, we are creating a lot of genetic diversity in our species. We may be better fit to surmount some tumultuous event in the future because the gene for down's syndrome also gives us immunity to the zombie virus or something like that. That's not backwards. That's survival.

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor