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Human Genes Still Evolving 810

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the i-know-a-few-missing-links dept.
MediumFormat writes "The New York Times is running an article that discusses the continuing evolution of human genes. From the article: 'The genes that show this evolutionary change include some responsible for the senses of taste and smell, digestion, bone structure, skin color and brain function.' Darwin Awards aside, what made people think that evolution stopped with the modern era?"
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Human Genes Still Evolving

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  • Original paper (Score:5, Informative)

    by lovebyte (81275) * <lovebyte2000@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:25AM (#14873403) Homepage
    The PLOS biology article [plosjournals.org] is available to everyone via Open Access.
    • Re:Original paper (Score:4, Informative)

      by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:28AM (#14875111)
      I don't think we need the original paper, I learned this in high school biology. Evolution never stops, there is no perfectly evolved thing. The question is whether our current evolution pattern is actually in our best interest, or if the dumb are outbreeding the smart (and on the side, are such things genetics based, or social).

      Some people feel that "forward" evolution has stopped. It's messy to define "forward", and messier to figure out if it has stopped.
      • The question is whether our current evolution pattern is actually in our best interest, or if the dumb are outbreeding the smart (and on the side, are such things genetics based, or social).

        Some people feel that "forward" evolution has stopped. It's messy to define "forward", and messier to figure out if it has stopped.

        Well, if Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and various reality/game shows are any indication, I'd say we're going downhill fast...
      • Re:Original paper (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tgibbs (83782)
        I don't think we need the original paper, I learned this in high school biology. Evolution never stops, there is no perfectly evolved thing

        However, evolution doesn't really seek perfection--it is prone to find a local optimum, where any deviation from the mean reduces fitness, and get "stuck" there. So instead of a continuous climb, most species could be sitting at the summits of local fitness peaks, changing only in response to changes in the environment (or, in the modern world, relocation to a different
  • First Post (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:25AM (#14873404)
    We'll it would have been if it wasn't for this damned webbing between my fingers.
  • by ashot (599110) <ashot@@@molsoft...com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:26AM (#14873406) Homepage
    its not that its stopped, its that 5,000 years is an insignificant spec of time.
    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:54AM (#14873504)
      A few generations are enough, particularly in areas with high mortality rates, high levels of disease. It just doesn't apply to the individual.
    • by afaik_ianal (918433) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:46AM (#14873862)
      I don't think it's completely insignificant, given that according to TFA, Asian and European genes started to specialise about 6600 years ago. (Did I interpret that correctly?)

      I'd say it is highly likely that evolution has slowed down over the past couple of hundred years. As we learn to treat more and more genetic diseases, less pressure is placed on removing those genes. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

      Strangely, if you ask people which genes you expect to be more successful, people will normally say intelligence. But look around you. I don't mean to be a flamebaiter, but the people having lots of babies are not the "intelligent" people. Normally, people from "less intelligent" families, who are more intelligent than their peers, are seen to be "breaking the cycle". They seem to go on to have many less children than their less intelligent brethren. I'm just saying what I think appears to be the case here; I don't have any hard data to back it up.

      If you follow that through, mankind is likely to get less healthy, and less intelligent.
      • Less intelligent (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:12AM (#14873954)
        But who would you say is intelligent? It seems to me like you are confusing making a carreer for yourself with beeing genetically superior in terms of intelligence.

        How many great minds are not being spent looking for food on garbage dumps in Africa? Or go their whole life without ever getting access to even basic education? If you examine the phd's of the world and compare their genes to the genes of the homeless, it would be very surprising if you found any regular difference.

        Genetically, you are not in any way inferior because you spend your days trying to survive starvation, or flip burgers for minimum-wage at McDonalds.
        • by vertinox (846076)
          Genetically, you are not in any way inferior because you spend your days trying to survive starvation, or flip burgers for minimum-wage at McDonalds.

          Right, but given your current income level at McDonalds... Chances are your potential mating partners will be.

          That or at least be dog ugly. Your options are kind of limited with a girl when they find out that you've been taking them to McDonalds for your dates only because you were getting an employee discount.
        • Re:Less intelligent (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Raffaello (230287)
          Maybe, maybe not. Maybe there are some systematic genetic differences between PhDs and the average MacDonald's employee. Maybe there aren't. Merely asserting that there are no such differences does not constitute proof.

          The brain is a complex organism. There are definite genetic variations in brain organization - see V. S. Ramachandran's Reith Lectures [bbc.co.uk] for some examples. Some of these may well make certain individuals better able to sit all day at a computer terminal doing programming than others who have di
      • by mooingyak (720677) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:27AM (#14874011)
        The trend has usually been more wealth/education == fewer children (in the last century at least). Natural intelligence doesn't really factor in.

        First link [prb.org]I found on the subject via google.
      • by AndersOSU (873247) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:52AM (#14874357)
        Strangely, if you ask people which genes you expect to be more successful, people will normally say intelligence.
        People might say that intelligence ought to be a successful gene, but by your own argument people are idiots...

        On a related note Social-Darwinism is something that is best regarded extremely cautiously, if not ignored all together. Based on thousands of years of civilization it doesn't seem that socially undesirable people have a particularly hard time procreating. People lacking intelligence fall squarely into that camp. Now we just have to wait a couple of hundred years to see if widespread use of contraceptives will change this. My thought is that it won't.

        Back to intelligence and evolution, I am not an evolutionary biologist, but is seems unlikely that intelligence maps 1:1 with genetics. Even if it did intelligence is something that is very hard to quantify. The intelligence required to solve differential equations would not be a survival trait in Sub-Saharan Africa, while the intelligence required to find the best fishing spot is not a survival trait in the U.S.

        Anytime you start talking about intelligence it is crucial to recognize the tremendous role that environment has on the individual. Even if I granted that IQ tests were able to measure intelligence, (I don't,) I could not argue that two equally intelligent people from different cultures would have the same score. Now try to define culture, and try to explain to me how the U.S., or any first world country, is a contiguous culture.

        Wow, that got ranty, but in short intelligence is at best loosely tied to genetics, and arguments of intelligence and evolution, if followed to their logical conclusion, lead directly to eugenics and racism.

        • by malsdavis (542216) * on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:29AM (#14874602)
          "Anytime you start talking about intelligence it is crucial to recognize the tremendous role that environment has on the individual. Even if I granted that IQ tests were able to measure intelligence, (I don't,) I could not argue that two equally intelligent people from different cultures would have the same score."

          I think this is the problem. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no universal "intelligence" co-efficient which can be higher in one person and lower in another, due to genetic or otherwise. Intelligence can be sub-divided into X number of categories (common examples being: Common-Sense, Creativity and Analytical Ability) but it is still far more complex than easily measurable characteristics like each person's genetic value for hair-color, height or metabolism etc.
      • Re:bad things (Score:3, Interesting)

        by glesga_kiss (596639)
        As we learn to treat more and more genetic diseases, less pressure is placed on removing those genes. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

        It is a bad thing. We've lost the filter aspect of evolution. Sure, the genes are changing, but it's no longer survival of the fittest. Say 100 years ago disease X killed all carriers of the defective gene before they could breed. With modern medicine, they can live a full life. The side-effect is that if they then have children, the defective gene gets passed

      • Normally, people from "less intelligent" families, who are more intelligent than their peers, are seen to be "breaking the cycle". They seem to go on to have many less children than their less intelligent brethren.

        Oftentimes people say "intelligent" when what they really mean is "educated".
        I could be wrong, but I kinda think that this is one of those times.

        Also, it does appear to be a very strong human instinct to have more babies when times are though. When you feel that your kids will have a lesser chance
      • by Warg! The Orcs!! (957405) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:39AM (#14874671)
        It is a conceit of the intelligent that intelligence drives human evolution. The skeletons of early hominids show evidence of the support of unproductive individuals within communities. Skeletons with broken but healed limbs, crippling arthritis, debilitating head wounds show that individuals that had been injured or were elderly were cared for by their peers/relations. The intelligent thing to do would be to ditch the dead weight and ease pressure on resources. Instead the human attributes demonstrated are compassion and co-operation. As for man getting less-healthy, no-one can tell which genes will be be favoured by the whims of nature and the wider the gene pool the better. In Europe sickle cell anaemia is an illness, in malarial zones it's an eveolutionary adaptation that aids survival. Who is to say what's healthy and what isn't. We have survived and prospered through our abilities to communicate and co-operate. Intelligence has followed on the coattails of our advancement and has not driven it. If a near-extinction meteor impact were to occur, would the species' best hope of survival lie with a select group of the Intelligensia or a select group of fertile people with excellent parenting skills? Think on this: You, dear reader, may regard yourself as intelligent and may pride yourself on your ability to read PERL or code in binary but that doesn't make babies. It is true that the "intelligent" breed less. The brutal fact is the geekier you are the less likely you are to reproduce and so when you have finished that algol compiler you've been working on and want to pat yourself on the back for being clever, remind yourself that you are not the pinnacle of human evolution and just an offshoot. The single mother successfully stretching out her budget raising four kids is more likely to leave an indelible imprint on the evolution of Man than you are.
      • by zx75 (304335)
        Run your "analysis" again, but replace intelligence with wealth. I think your correlation to negative birth rate will be much higher.

        It just so happens that in the already wealthy western world (which on the whole has a much lower birth rate than poorer nations) income is partially related to intelligence, in the fact that university graduates on average make more money than non-grads.
    • its not that its stopped, its that 5,000 years is an insignificant spec of time.

      Most all domesticated animals have less than 5,000 years of genetics in them. Horses, dogs, cats, pigs, cows, chickens, etc.

      5,000 years is a very significant amount of time for selective breeding.

  • Evolution stopped? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NitsujTPU (19263) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:28AM (#14873413)
    Darwin Awards aside, what made people think that evolution stopped with the modern era?

    Applying natural selection as a template, lets look at what it really is. Natural selection is the phenomena of being removed from the gene pool prior to reproduction. Anything else that happens will allow your genes to carry on, which is how evolution works. People probably assumed that evolution stopped because they assume that most people manage to successfully reproduce prior to their death.
    • by Florian H. (6933) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:57AM (#14873522) Homepage
      Natural selection is the phenomena of being removed from the gene pool prior to reproduction.
      Actually, no. Natural selection is about having comparatively more offspring than competing selection units. To die early is a hard limiting factor in that game, but not the only factor. Living long enough to take care for your grandchildren while your (now adult) kids are out hunting probably has a major influence on your overall reproductive success, too.
      • VERY SLOW ... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by willtsmith (466546) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:43AM (#14873852) Journal

        Lets put it this way, humans are not going to ever loose their pinky finger if modern society goes on the way it is.

        I don't think you can expect any MAJOR changes in an evolutionary model that does not ELIMINATE unfavorable characterists. We live in society's in which pretty much everybody reproduces and most of those reproductions end up reproducing themself. For those who cannot cope with society, we have public assistance and jail.

        If anything, I believe modern evolutionary pressure (the last three hundred years) is producing more of the genes from people who have poor family planning skills and just cannot grasp or accept birth control. I fear what this pattern may produce in 20,000 years where people with less cognitive skills have 3-4 times more children than those with more cognitive skills. That and the other pressure for religious fanatics to have more children than those who take rational views of the world. Those with deep intellect could be forced to create a "Zardoz" society to protect themselves.

        • I LIKE my pinkies! (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Scrameustache (459504) *
          humans are not going to ever loose their pinky finger if modern society goes on the way it is.

          I sure [coinmanipulation.com] hope [pentrix.com] not [bennygoodman.com]!
        • Re:VERY SLOW ... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Gulthek (12570) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:45AM (#14874733) Homepage Journal
          Oh man. I sure hope you're in the group that isn't producing a lot of offspring.

          Quick bullet point summary:

          * Poor != stupid
          * Wealthy != intelligent
          * Evolution != progression to a superior being
          * Evolution == reaction to environmental stress
          * Religion != absence of rational thought

          If "intelligent" people are choosing not to have offspring, then their genes are commiting suicide, and good riddance.
          • Re:VERY SLOW ... (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Enigma2175 (179646)
            Oh man. I sure hope you're in the group that isn't producing a lot of offspring.

            Quick bullet point summary:

            * Poor != stupid
            * Wealthy != intelligent


            Actually, there are many studies that inversely correlate intelligence (or at least IQ scores) with poverty rates. While wealthy != intelligent, if you are intelligent you are more likely to be wealthy.


            * Evolution != progression to a superior being
            * Evolution == reaction to environmental stress


            Evolution is the progression to a being that is more suitable to the
    • by famebait (450028) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:10AM (#14873558)
      Applying natural selection as a template, lets look at what it really is. Natural selection is the phenomena of being removed from the gene pool prior to reproduction. Anything else that happens will allow your genes to carry on, which is how evolution works.

      This is a gross simplification. Sure, being killed off before reproducing is a very strong and effective form of evolutionary pressure, but not the only one. Reproductive success is also very important. Not just whether you reproduce at all: In species with sexual reproducion (where genes/traits relatively quickly can spread across through a population without the source being the sole ancestor), simply facilitating slightly more offspring that survive to reproduce will also eventually make a trait rise to prominence. This can be achieved in many ways, the most obvious ones being increased reproduction or superior nurture.

      A lot of things seen in nature (and also some seemingly conflicting drives in human behavior) only make sense in the light of sexual selection, survival boosting between related individuals, and other complex and conflicting ways that can help a gene succesfully proliferate.
    • Natural selection is the phenomena of being removed from the gene pool prior to reproduction.

      That's exactly the mistake that most people make when they talk about evolution. It's not just down to the ability to stay alive long enough, i.e. not all selectors involve organism death.

      Some people lead long, healthy active lives and never reproduce through choice, lack of opportunity or possibly just inadequate social skills. Isaac Newton famously died a virgin.

      People may also reproduce but choose the best par

      • Some people lead long, healthy active lives and never reproduce through choice, lack of opportunity or possibly just inadequate social skills. Isaac Newton famously died a virgin.


        Precisely. And yet Newton undoubtedly had an effect on the general society around him, not least through his work in the mint. The overall population benefited from his labours, although he never himself returned his genes to the general pool.

        Lets say, as is generally thought, that Newton had genes which gave him an extreme "geek" factor. This factor benefits the general populace, although the "geek" genes themselves may never be passed on directly. However, the potential for such genes to be expressed is passed on through, for example, Newton's siblings and close relatives.

        Evolution works on a macro population level, not just on an individual organisim by organism basis.
    • Natural selection is the phenomena of being removed from the gene pool prior to reproduction. Anything else that happens will allow your genes to carry on, which is how evolution works.

      Well, that's not the complete picture [economist.com].
  • Civilization.

    (Not the Sid-Meier-game, actually.)
  • by permaculture (567540) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:29AM (#14873415) Homepage Journal
    Evolution involves the death of weaker individuals before they can breed. With soap (the yardstick of civilisation), surgery, rescue helicopters, dentistry, wheelchairs etc, weaker individuals aren't killed off so easily before they can breed.

    • What do you think makes it possible? The human brain responsible for high level social interaction and technological innovation is a major evolutional advantage. What does it say? Two things:

      1. It is better to be in a society for higher survival chances.
      2. Smart people have a better chance of survival collectively.

      These remarks seem trivial, but these issues are complex if you look a bit closer.
    • by StrawberryFrog (67065) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:41AM (#14873454) Homepage Journal
      You cannot stop natural selection, you can only change the selection criteria.

      Small children are naturally scared of spiders, snakes and the like. This is no longer such an important criterion, so it is likely to wither.

      For example, as the advertisments in London keep reminding us, colisions with cars is a a major killer of children and teens. Hopefully we'll eventually breed for kids that don't run out into the bloody road without looking.

      And finally, your argument that "weaker individuals aren't killed off" by traditional perils like disease and conflict simply fails to apply in the third world, where the majority of the human race lives. Give them a few more generations, and they will be superior to your soft white first-world ass.
      • by Riktov (632) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:00AM (#14873528) Journal

        And finally, your argument that "weaker individuals aren't killed off" by traditional perils like disease and conflict simply fails to apply in the third world, where the majority of the human race lives. Give them a few more generations, and they will be superior to your soft white first-world ass.

        Third-worlders already are evolutionarily "superior" to white first-worlders -- by their selection criteria, i.e. the genetic makeup of a "white first-worlder" is likely to be disadvantageous when placed in the third-world environment. And vice versa. This almost goes by definition. Each adapted to their own environment, and it's meaningless to say that one is superior to another unless they are in the same environment.

        • by StrawberryFrog (67065) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:34AM (#14873633) Homepage Journal
          That may or may not be the case. The experiment to determine it would be to raise first-world children in the third world, and vice versa. A possible outcome is that the things that the first world children have that are no handicap in the first world (e.g. poor eyesight, correctable defects) are major handicaps in the third world, and the traits that third world children have (e.g. disease resistance) are no handicap at all in the first world.

          This provides a criterion, notwithstanding that it is subjective, whereby you can say that the third-world ones are "superior"
    • It just means that the environment changed, and therefore the definition of who is "weak".

      There are still hereditary differences in people that have an effect on the number of offspring they're likely to have (e.g., intelligence is for a large part hereditary, more intelligent people are more likely to be highly educated, and birth rate is low for the highly educated in all rich countries), so evolution continues.

    • Not really, strictly speaking. Evolution happens because in any environment some entities will survive and some won't. The 'weakest' are defined by their non-survival, simply. This distinction is critical to the understanding of evolution - evolution is not something that happens only to living organisms, it is a trivial consequence of the interaction between two opposite trends: a constructive trend and a deconstructive trend.

      The same evolution happens in other systems - say, the system of 'scientific thou
    • by nickco3 (220146) * on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:22AM (#14873604)
      Evolution involves the death of weaker individuals before they can breed. With soap (the yardstick of civilisation), surgery, rescue helicopters, dentistry, wheelchairs etc, weaker individuals aren't killed off so easily before they can breed.

      This is a common misconception, evolution is not really about killing off the "weak" before they breed. Evolution involves two factors: changes to the genetic structure over time, and spreading those new genes as far as possible in the environment they inhabit.

      The rate at which new changes are introduced is called the mutation rate and is independent of any level of civilisation we have acheived so far.

      The second factor is spreading those new genes as far possible, that they be successful. But what determines a "successful" gene? The environment it finds itself in. When you move from a primitive environment to a civilised one the rules of the game change. A genetic hindrance in one environment may be neutral or beneficial in the other. For example, in it's original West African environment the gene that causes sickle-cell anemia is a beneficial one, offering a level of protection against malaria. In the people with this gene that were moved to the US, it just became a hindrance. In the absence of regular malaria epidemics the incidence of the sickle-cell gene has been observed slowly falling.

      Favoured genes are not just about being stronger. Some genetic traits are highly successful because they are more sexually appealing to potential mates. The peacock's tail and the blue-eyed, blonde-haired northern European are both examples of this.

      So evolution is alive and well, even for civilised beings. The mutation rate is constant and we are still adapting to our (civilised) environment.
  • Interesting, but (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Vlad2.0 (956796) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:37AM (#14873441)
    I think it will be really interesting to see what happens to humanity (genetically) over the next several thousand years. The article makes it sound like bioinformatics could really take off in an effort to better ourselves by artificial selection.

    A number of things have changed that will greatly impact our evolution that hasn't been experienced by our species before:

    1. Ease of migration allowing for extreme mixing of previously separated social groups (this has been in decline over the last few thousand years, but now that you can travel between continents relatively quickly and cheaply, the impact will be much much greater.)

    2. Knowingly allowing, accepting, and encouraging reproduction of individuals, who...shouldn't (No, I don't mean Bush). There's some bad genes out there. Some that shouldn't be passed on. While we're at a point where we can curtail some of this through prescreening parents for likely inherited traits, we continue to become more accepting of people with, well, bad genes. Aren't we effectively letting people piss into the pool?

    3. Will this spawn a new race (as in car) by parents to "maximize" the brain genes described in TFA? Do I have to listen to soccer mom's brag about their kids DNA now?

    4. How will this impact governments? And more importantly, dating websites?

    I guess only time will tell.
    • 2. Knowingly allowing, accepting, and encouraging reproduction of individuals, who...shouldn't (No, I don't mean Bush). There's some bad genes out there. Some that shouldn't be passed on. While we're at a point where we can curtail some of this through prescreening parents for likely inherited traits, we continue to become more accepting of people with, well, bad genes. Aren't we effectively letting people piss into the pool?

      What's a bad gene? Something that causes multiple scleroses or suchlike might we

    • Knowingly allowing, accepting, and encouraging reproduction of individuals, who...shouldn't (No, I don't mean Bush). There's some bad genes out there. Some that shouldn't be passed on.

      Did you just read the last /. article [slashdot.org] too?
    • 2. Knowingly allowing, accepting, and encouraging reproduction of individuals, who...shouldn't (No, I don't mean Bush). There's some bad genes out there. Some that shouldn't be passed on. While we're at a point where we can curtail some of this through prescreening parents for likely inherited traits, we continue to become more accepting of people with, well, bad genes. Aren't we effectively letting people piss into the pool?

      Ah yes, we have heard that one before, haven't we?

      This might just invoke Godwin's l
    • Eugenics is Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreak@ei r c o m .net> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:39AM (#14873842) Homepage Journal
      While we're at a point where we can curtail some of this through prescreening parents for likely inherited traits, we continue to become more accepting of people with, well, bad genes. Aren't we effectively letting people piss into the pool?

      No. No. No. Eugenics is not just wrong. It's painfully stupid.

      Why does evolution work? What is the secret. The secret my friends is randomness.

      Randomness is the process which drives evolution. The universe is a vast, unpredicable chaotic system. It is only by randomly searching through many possible solutions that a species can hope to adapt to any enviornment.

      The minute you take out randomness, by taking away genes or introducing them, you've stopped evolving, and have started specialising. And guess what happens to specialist species when their enviornment changes? That's right. They die.

      Evolve dolphins with bigger lungs so they can dive deeper, kill off all lesser lunged dolphins. Then earths 02 levels drop by 2%. Ooops. Specialised, deep sea feeding dolphins are dead meat. With a random system, there would still be some lower lung capacity dolphins around.

      Think this doesn't apply to people? Ask yourself this? Can you say with certainty what genes will be beneficial or detrimental to humanities survival in 1 million years time? What about 10,00 years time? 100 years? 10 years? Who would have predicted even 20 years ago that "geek" traits would be in such demand? Can you say what genes are beneficial or detrimental right now!?

      Yet you want to throw out the single most powerful aspect of evolution. Random chance. It's got us where we are today, and if you think anyone can engineer an entire planet and its ecosystem half as well as random evolution, I'd like to see you try.

      For an example of the superiority of evolution over engineering, just check out evolved antennas [wikipedia.org]. NASA seems to think random evolution is just fine.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:38AM (#14873447)
    I mean really? Come on...

    You go to college, work your arse off, earn lots of money, die without kids, the race doesn't get your genes. You're a single parent living on state benefit with 12 kids... big contribution to the gene pool.

     
    • Geneticly speaking the single mother is "fitter". Evolution is a brainless uncontrolled process - it selects for things that maximise reproduction - so after a certain point it starts to select in favour of stupidity.

      If we want to preferentialy breed inteligence into future generations we're going to have to do it intentionaly, either by a direct process of eugenics (possibly by giving financial benefits to inteligent people who have children and heavily taxing less inteligent people who do ... which runs

    • Maybe I'm misunderstanding your sentiment, but how does what you say contradict evolution? Evolution isn't about making humans smarter, stronger, or any other attribute that you think of as 'better'. To evolution the better person is whomever passes their genes on.

      When speaking on the survival of a species, that welfare mom is a hell of alot more important than some wealthy smart person who keeps their genes to themselves.
  • Part of evolution is adaptation to the environment. We are changing the environment (civilization, medicine, technology, etc.) far faster than evolution can react to it, so to speak, given the length of a human generation. We are seriously adapting the environment to us, rather than the other way around.
    • It's a pet theory of mine that evolution works in three stages, and we're just embarking on the third stage:

      1) Environment changes species. The species responds to its environment until it reaches a certain point, which leads us to:

      2) Species changes environment. Tool-handling gives us the ability to shape our environment to our own benefit. This reduces the need to adapt to the environment, so natural evolution slows down, until:

      3) Species changes itself. Genetic engineering/screening/manipulation gives us
  • Yesterday, I read this [guardian.co.uk] in the Guardian [guardian.co.uk]. It's a very interesting article about how, over the last 10.000 years, our DNA has been altered by what we eat and where we live.
  • [QUOTE]Darwin Awards aside, what made people think that evolution stopped with the modern era?[/QUOTE]

    The confusion is over the lay usage and the scientific usage of evolution. Lay usage usually implys an 'improvement' in the genome, whereas scientific usage is 'a change in allelle frequency over time' which can be due to 'selective pressure' resulting in differential reproductive success (and hence likely an 'improvement') or due to genetic drift, etc.. Selective pressures resulting in 'differential repr
  • Still going strong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nnnneedles (216864) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:46AM (#14873474)
    I hate to see all these comments talking about how evolution mechanisms are failing in the modern world.

    We can't escape natural selection, no matter how many pills and safety mechanisms we introduce into society.

    Women just tend to become more and more picky with whom they mate. And while things like good eye sight become less important, other things take their place. Things like having lots of money, social skills/social network, an athletic body, cooking skills and so on.

    Here in Europe, the number of babies born per adult keep falling. This means it is actually getting harder to reproduce than it was in a past, poorer Europe.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:47AM (#14873476)
    Watching a Jerry Springer Show gave me these conclusions:
    - the humane genes are still evolving
    - they are evolving at a rapid rate
    - they are evolving in the wrong direction

    Oh yeah, and:
    - it's not 'designed'
    - it's certainly not 'intelligent'

  • pretty obvious (Score:4, Interesting)

    by idlake (850372) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:54AM (#14873509)
    I think that article isn't seeing the forest for the trees.

    In fact, natural selection has clearly operated at a huge scale, when Europeans settled every corner of the globe, while indiginous populations have disappeared or mingled. Genes associated with those Europeans have spread, while many others have nearly disappeared.

    This is an example of group selection, and it has selected many genes at once; some of them may have helped Europeans in their conquests, others may have just been along for the ride.

    On the flipside, medical and environmental advances probably are causing us to lose functions at a massive rate: no need to deal with food-born pathogens if you don't encounter any.

    Evolution isn't as neat and simple as "better mammal wins" or "better gene gets selected".

    The Chinese are illustrative of another interesting development in evolution: limiting population growth in the absence of high child mortality and in the presence of modern medical technologies and genetic testing. Whatever policies nations adopt in that environment, they'll end up acting as "natural" selection as well.
    • Re:pretty obvious (Score:3, Informative)

      by sckeener (137243)
      In fact, natural selection has clearly operated at a huge scale, when Europeans settled every corner of the globe, while indigenous populations have disappeared or mingled. Genes associated with those Europeans have spread, while many others have nearly disappeared.

      The European gene pool had little to do with their spread. Read
      • Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

      or watch it on PBS [pbs.org]. Basically everyone was equal, but some had better resources / environment.

      My own example is imagine if our intelligence h

    • In fact, natural selection has clearly operated at a huge scale, when Europeans settled every corner of the globe, while indiginous populations have disappeared or mingled. Genes associated with those Europeans have spread, while many others have nearly disappeared.

      This is an example of group selection, and it has selected many genes at once; some of them may have helped Europeans in their conquests, others may have just been along for the ride.

      Are you of the Nazi philosophy? They also believed in the g

      • Re:pretty obvious (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rabtech (223758)
        That isn't what he is saying. Natural selection doesn't always "select" the better gene... or in this case it isn't acting on whether one gene is better than another. A group is simply wholesale overridden by another for whatever reason (such as war or colonization.)

        That action is, in fact, natural selection at work but not in the limited way we typically think of it. It has nothing to do with whos genes are superior, a master race, or any of that other crap. However the fact is that european/western genes
  • by SteWhite (212909) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:26AM (#14873815)

    Darwin Awards aside, what made people think that evolution stopped with the modern era?

    The fact that through medical care and technology, we have almost eliminated "survival of the fittest" (better written as "survival of the best fit to their habitat")?

    People now live and have children when they would previously have died, either through diseases, or harsh environmental conditions. The elimination of the process of natural selection should see to it that evolution in humans no longer occurs, at least not in any beneficial way. Bad genes that lead to people having chronic medical conditions are not removed from the gene pool by those people dying without producing offspring. Humankind needs to step in with more advanced medical care and gene therapy to replace what was once done by nature.

    Just my $0.02 of course!

  • by The Famous Druid (89404) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:28AM (#14873818)
    Most whites have a gene that gives partial resistance to Bubonic Plague, as those Europeans who didn't have it 600 years ago don't have living descendants now.

    Will the next big evolutionary change be (partial?) resistance to Bird-flu or Ebola ?
  • basis of evolution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by v1 (525388) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:29AM (#14874015) Homepage Journal
    Darwin Awards aside, what made people think that evolution stopped with the modern era?"

    The problem evolution is having now is that in order for the primary mechanism of evolution to "work", a significant portion of the members of a population have to die. (not survive long enough to reproduce) In today's modern human socity, life is valued and society helps people to survive that without help would not have made it.

    Some of the most extreme examples include people that have a genetic defect that would normally be fatal, but due to modern medical technology they are able to go on living. They have children, some of which inherit those different genes and also suffer from the same genetic condition. 500 years ago this would not have happened because the original defect would have been "weeded out of the gene pool" and there would have been no children with the same defect.

    Evolution may still be occurring, but it is very likely going a lot slower than it was even a decade ago. It's also likely working a little different now than it did in the past - the other functional feature of evolution is natural selection, and the random attributes that people find attractive in finding a partner have probably changed over time and this also would affect evoltion - I'd expect this to now be the dominent influence on human evolution.
  • by rew (6140) <r.e.wolff@BitWizard.nl> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:52AM (#14874105) Homepage
    What many people fail to realize is that it takes "evolution" on the order of tens to hundreds thousands of years to "invent" a gene.

    Random mutations have to encode for a new protein that activates in the right cells and "does the right thing". From then on, this is likely to become a "gene": Almost any random mutation will invalidate the protein, and disable the "feature".

    Suppose such a new "invention" is not always advantageous. Say, only during an ice age. During ice ages, those carrying the intact encoding for the protein (we say they "have the gene"), will survive best, those that don't have it will drop in numbers. Once such a condition is over (say ice age stops), natural selection suddely starts to favor those that "do not have the gene". Still, as they decend from a population where most had the gene to survive, they remain "genetically close", and the gene will easily activate and proliferate during the next ice age.

    A real world example is Sicle Cell Anemia. It is a genetic disease: You're born with or without it. Advantage of HAVING the disease? You don't die of Malaria (you do die of the disease, but most have had children by then).

    So depending on the amount of malaria mosquitos around, the percentage of people with the Sicle Cell Anemia gene varies a lot. Natural selection at work!

    Now, if you look at 10000 to 15000 years, it is unlikely that "evolution" has "invented" a lot of new genes. That however genes have activated and deactivated is however very likely.

    If the "running fast" gene was "mostly essential" 10000 years ago in africa, but now not any more, then natural selection would have ensured that 90-95% of the population had that gene 10000 years ago. Nowadays, there is no longer a selection for-or-against this gene. So, the percentage of the people having the gene will slowly drop (I don't work in the field, I have no idea how fast this goes).

    Did you ever notice that different children "don't like" different foods? This is a genetic safeguard to preserve the species. Evolution apparently "invented" that a long time ago.

    If five percent of your tribe "Simply doesn't like to eat chicken", and the H5N1 Chicken flue comes around, about 5% of the tribe is likely to survive to pass on a much elevated "don't like chicken" gene.

    Most likely the "common knowledge" about what to eat and what not to eat has leveled out the "taste" genes: They no longer significantly influence survival.

  • by mwood (25379) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:05AM (#14874918)
    Dunno, maybe it's the same thing that seemingly makes some people believe there were no extinctions until Man invented the chainsaw. It's hard to believe in something you can't see happening -- you need tools to help your senses. Some folks never pick up those tools.

    Still it's good to have actual data to back up the reasonable assumption that evolution hasn't stopped since we see nothing that would have stopped it. (Tools again!) We get a kick out of scientists breathlessly announcing things that "everybody knows", but there's a long and growing list of things "everybody knew" that turned out to be wrong. When studying the obvious, occasionally you find useful things that nobody saw, because the truth was so "obvious".
  • Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by danpsmith (922127) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:05AM (#14874923)
    I remember reading the story in Ishmael about the jellyfish's history of the world. Basically the jellyfish is the highest evolved creature in the story and it ends with "And then, there was the jellyfish!" And at the time I read it (13), it was an eye opener because I believe I had thought like a lot of people think still that we were just the top of the food chain and nothing better would ever come along. I guess from the tag of this article most people haven't read that book or had that thought, that perhaps we aren't the most evolved thing Earth has ever seen, and we'll probably be a more primal species like a monkey is to us in a matter of millions of years. I can't believe anyone actually thought evolution stopped.
  • by jafac (1449) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:09AM (#14874947) Homepage
    Latex allergies mean - - no condoms (other materials are definately not as effective).

    Therefore, more offspring.

    Latex allergy is a genetic condition. So some of those offspring will also be allergic to latex.
  • by cmholm (69081) <cmholmNO@SPAMmauiholm.org> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @02:36PM (#14877698) Homepage Journal
    What made people think that evolution stopped with the modern era?

    1) Because of a background assumption in most cultures that people were brought into being, without preamble, a few thousand years ago.

    2) Within the Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition, the widespread belief that the Lord will be wrapping things up, shortly, so that there won't be time for further/any evolutionary activity.

    3) The popular conception that evolutionary change is always macroscopic and immediately apparent to the casual observer (ie. X-men).

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