Monday, July 28, 2008

Rapid human evolution

There is a pretty good article in US News and World Report about the growing evidence for very rapid recent evolution in human beings:
At the same time, the human genome has been scrambling to adapt to a rapidly changing world—11,000 years ago, nobody farmed, nobody milked domesticated animals, and nobody lived in a city. People with a mutation that aided survival were more likely to thrive, reproduce, and pass that mutation along to offspring. For example, the capacity to digest lactose, the sugar in milk, has become common only over the past 3,000 years. Now, about 95 percent of the people in northern Germany have the mutation, which also popped up independently among the Masai in Africa and the Lapps in Finland. Hawks says: "This is really rapid evolution."
Unfortunately, instead of sticking to the science, the second half of the article goes into genetic engineering and its ethical complications. Speculation ensues and the piece ends off with a pathetically pat conclusion. Despite its shortcomings, the article is still a decent popular summary of very important science.

(Via John Hawks, who features in the article).

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