Scientists find evidence that humans are still evolving.

Every now and then some IDiot or Creationist will show up and ask one of their favorite questions: If we evolved from monkeys then why aren’t we still evolving into something else? The answer, of course, is that we are still in that process of change:

Providing the strongest evidence yet that human beings are still evolving, researchers have detected some 700 regions of the human genome where genes appear to have been reshaped by natural selection, a principal force of evolution, within the last 5,000 to 15,000 years.

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.

Under natural selection, beneficial genes become more common in a population as their owners have more progeny.

It’s a slow process but even within relatively small timescales there’s evidence of change that’s being found. If we manage to survive for a few million more years chances are humans will have evolved into something hard to recognize as human.

74 thoughts on “Scientists find evidence that humans are still evolving.

  1. What’s beyond species and genus, anybody? Looks like we’ll have to add a new sub-subcategory to the naming scheme that we have to allow for “homo sapiens

    .”

  2. That last entry didn’t show up right, so here’s an alternative format. “homo sapiens [insert new variant here].”

  3. creationists also have no concept of evolution occuring over hundreds of thousands of generations-recorded human history is less than 10,000 years, and we’ve seen little during that time that would really put serious evolutionary pressure us. I’m sure we would have evolved much more dramatically if we had seen some sort of environmental factor that caused more natural selection to occur.

  4. I’m sure I have this wrong, so forgive me…

    Didn’t they find a small island of people near Italy a few years back that had developed a natural immunity to heart disease?  Somehting about how their bodies processed cholesterol or something?  Wouldn’t that be an example of people still evolving to fit their needs to survive?

  5. The Chicago Tribune article that Les cited is short version of a piece that ran in the New York Times. Here are some more specifics.

    The fingerprints of natural selection in DNA are hard to recognize. Just a handful of recently selected genes have previously been identified, like those that confer resistance to malaria or the ability to digest lactose in adulthood, an adaptation common in Northern Europeans whose ancestors thrived on cattle milk.

    But the authors of the HapMap study released last October found many other regions where selection seemed to have occurred, as did an analysis published in December by Robert K. Moysis of the University of California, Irvine.

    Dr. Pritchard’s scan of the human genome differs from the previous two because he has developed a statistical test to identify just genes that have started to spread through populations in recent millennia and have not yet become universal, as many advantageous genes eventually do.

    The selected genes he has detected fall into a handful of functional categories, as might be expected if people were adapting to specific changes in their environment. Some are genes involved in digesting particular foods like the lactose-digesting gene common in Europeans. Some are genes that mediate taste and smell as well as detoxify plant poisons, perhaps signaling a shift in diet from wild foods to domesticated plants and animals.

    Dr. Pritchard estimates that the average point at which the selected genes started to become more common under the pressure of natural selection is 10,800 years ago in the African population and 6,600 years ago in the Asian and European populations.

    Dr. Richard G. Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford, said that it was hard to correlate the specific gene changes in the three populations with events in the archaeological record, but that the timing and nature of the changes in the East Asians and Europeans seemed compatible with the shift to agriculture. Rice farming became widespread in China 6,000 to 7,000 years ago, and agriculture reached Europe from the Near East around the same time.

    Have to wonder about what might come from our increasing use of technology.

  6. Will there still be monkeys in the future?  You know, what with evolution and all.  Won’t they all evolve into humans and run for congress?  wink

  7. How would you tell the difference?

    I’ve heard that chimps and humans share 97% of DNA just the same, but I don’t have 97% in common with the typical congressman.

  8. There are actually quite a few legitimate scientists that had the nerve to say human evolution had reached it’s peak.
    These people are in the same class as some fool about a hundred years ago who said we should disband the patent office because everything had been invented! LOL

  9. Interestingly, socially successful people tend to have less children nowadays.  This would mean that the genes required to prosper in modern society would actually be in decline.

    And we are due to some advanges in genetic engineering Real Soon Now(tm).  At least in evolutionary timescales.  Then we have finally evolved into intelligent design.

    So perhaps we have entered a phase of cultural evolution, and biology gets altered to match.  Or only the socially successful are allowed to have children, for the good of the society, of course.  Or, civilization collapses, we’ll be back in stone age, and all is well again.

    Anyway, the theory of evolution should break down when the evolvees begin tampering with the process.

  10. Anyway, the theory of evolution should break down when the evolvees begin tampering with the process.

    Where did you ever get that Idea? It might change direction but certainly not “break down”.
    I would think that we will play an increasing part in determining our own future and evolution.
    Where this will lead I don’t know, but it certailnly looks like more good than bad will come from it!
    cool smile

  11. Sort of related to this from a science-fiction-based-on-fact point of view – Greg Bear’s “Darwin’s Radio”. In a nutshell, it’s about “Evolution. Now.”

  12. Where did you ever get that Idea? It might change direction but certainly not “break down

  13. I have to completely agree that we are also going through a dramatic social/cultural evolution which might have as much a bearing on our ancestors as the biological changes. rolleyes

  14. The less-numerous children of the rich will be the first to enjoy enhancements.  The first changes will be things like freedom from certain inherited diseases.  I predict it will be a looooong time before they can do things like make kids freakishly intelligent or handsome.  Much sooner will come insurance dilemmas, malpractice lawsuits, tight regulations, and illegal foreign clinics with thalidomide-type side effects hitting three generations down the line.

  15. Much sooner will come insurance dilemmas, malpractice lawsuits, tight regulations, and illegal foreign clinics with thalidomide-type side effects hitting three generations down the line.

    bah-humbug to you too!

  16. Homo Americanus – Large in both frame and girth this giant was characterized by his inability to form rational opinions or do pull ups. Docile and compliant when confronted by his own government or constabulary his sense of self importance and superiority led to many of the the worst tragedies, both global and domestic, of the 20th and 21st centuries (before the rest of the world quarantined the North American continent). This species of human was the first to actually begin de-evolving when science was outlawed in 2024 and the last known enclave found in Montana dressed only in skins, communicated via pictograms thought to represent Fundamental Christian teachings, which had become the National Religion in 2022.

    Once a powerful and advanced species, the last known Homo Americanus died on April 17th, 2231 from amebic dysentery.

  17. characterized by his inability to form rational opinions

      They’d object to “homo” Americanus, preferring “hetero” Americanus.

  18. I think this whole business of referring to us as “homo-sapiens” is a conspiracy by the gay left to undermine society and further their own cause!
    It’s the same as when they claimed 10% of the population was gay when in reality it is only about 2%.
    raspberry

  19. I predict it will be a looooong time before they can do things like make kids freakishly intelligent or handsome.

    And then they probably do things like increase capability to logical thought and take away any creativity one might have.  You generally need to be just a little bit different to come up with something really new.  Or there will be some guys who will be naturally muscular, I believe such a mutation already exist, and they all get killed after some natural disaster because their bodies need much more food than is normal.

    It’s interesting to compare how much the world has changed in the last millenium.  Last century?  Last decade?  See a trend here?  Take a guess at the odds that some of those changes spark a friendly round of Global Thermonuclear War.  In a decade?  In a century?  In a millenium?  Or the chances of someone developing some kind of species killing bug, and it getting released before/during/after a large scale war, with the facilities needed to develop a cure destroyed.

    In a sense of social/cultural evolution, we are in an evolve or die phase.  We have got to a point where the damage we can do if everything goes to hell is truly staggering.  And unless we get out of this phase soonish, given long enough period of time, shit will happen.

  20. And then they probably do things like increase capability to logical thought and take away any creativity one might have.

    TMP, you’re not saying that a capacity for logical thought is antithetical to creativity, are you?  It’s an ugly stereotype of the antisocial boffin pecking away at his sums while society goes to hell.

    If you get a chance, read Surely you’re joking, Dr. Feynman.  It will bring a smile to your face cool smile  In any case I suspect the capacity for logical thought is more a matter of socialization than genetics.

  21. TMP, you’re not saying that a capacity for logical thought is antithetical to creativity, are you?  It’s an ugly stereotype of the antisocial boffin pecking away at his sums while society goes to hell.

    No, but logical thought only allows you to expand on your axioms.  The ability to pull new and random ideas out of your ass and then expanding on those and seeing if they work might be actually considered a flaw.  As in, this gene causes someones brain to occassionally give weird results, let’s get rid of it.

    read Surely you’re joking, Dr. Feynman

    I’ll try.  And, yes, logic is something learned.  But I was thinking about raw biological capacity for pattern matching or mathematics myself.  Potential rather than actual ability.  And something easier to measure than creativity and emotions.  And worried about side effects of any possible tampering.  Me not native English speaker, you see.

  22. The thought of human beings tinkering with their own DNA conjurs up a disturbing image of chimpanzees running amok in the control center of a nuclear reactor.

    We as a race are clearly not advanced enough to seriously consider tampering with our genetic code. Though I suspect our arrogance combined with ignorance and ego will spur us onwards to meddle with it anyway!

    Imagine a new Thalidomide generation, of children born with horrible birth defects simply because we as a race don’t know when to just stop messing with things we don’t fully understand. So in a nutshell, no I don’t think it’s a good idea. wink

  23. Neither do I, Serai. That said, a similar debate came up about what should be done regarding Genetically Modified Foods. A year or so ago when I was working retail that spurted out on the radio, and someone asked me what I thought of it, since I was the “deep type”. I said I’d rather we push it now (in Canada) while it’s still being researched in Universities and the public domain at large. Testing would be encouraged by field results, good or bad. If we don’t press forward with genetically modified foods, there’s a chance that private interest will pick up the tab – at which point what we know and how we are able to use it is entirely up to them.

    I’d rather see research for the love of knowledge and humankind than research for profit. On something as serious as the human genome, we have the chance to seize that information for human beings as a whole.

    Of course, short on data as we are, neither option is desirable.

  24. The thought of human beings tinkering with their own DNA conjurs up a disturbing image of chimpanzees running amok in the control center of a nuclear reactor.

    Ahh, Curious George Visits Chernobyl!  (a bit of dark humor from the days after that reactor blew up.  A friend and I traded gallows jokes for weeks afterward)

    I’d rather we push it now (in Canada) while it’s still being researched in Universities and the public domain at large. Testing would be encouraged by field results, good or bad. If we don’t press forward with genetically modified foods, there’s a chance that private interest will pick up the tab

    University and private research are not mutually exclusive.  And you’ll be pleased to know that even private industry does use field results to drive their research.  In one instance you’ll hear trumpted by anti-GM screeds, beans were tested that turned out to have allergenic properties – and so the project was scrapped.  That is what testing is for.

    As to the desirability of GM foods, that probably depends on how hungre you are.

    Best book I’ve read about the future of human genetics – and somewhat in agreement with TMP – is Robert Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon.

  25. We as a race are clearly not advanced enough to seriously consider tampering with our genetic code. Though I suspect our arrogance combined with ignorance and ego will spur us onwards to meddle with it anyway!

    If that’s the case we should not have developed penicillin, insulin or any other medical treatment since this “interferes” with normal biology. In other words if the body cannot heal itself, then let it die!!! (yes I know discovering penicillin is not the same as modifying genes, but yo get the drift.
    zipper

  26. In other words if the body cannot heal itself, then let it die!!!

    Except that wasn’t my point though, for starters many foods and common herbs can be considered to be medicinal, penicillin is after all a naturally occurring substance. People have been curing themselves with plant extracts for thousands of years.

    yes I know discovering penicillin is not the same as modifying genes

    So your point is? Apples and oranges really I think, or have you just prejudged me and assume because I reject genetic manipulation that I espouse the “if the body cannot heal itself, then let it die!!!” mindset?

    My point was that we as a species cannot even get along with other members of our own kind who display slight genetic differences such as skin colour. How can you possibly imagine humans are ready to begin moving toward perfection(?) by genetic manipulation when we cannot resolve even the most basic of our problems such as war and famine?

    I’ve not seen a great deal of evidence to convince me, that we as a species are competent enough to manage our own genetic advancement. And that was my point right there.

  27. Best book I’ve read about the future of human genetics – and somewhat in agreement with TMP – is Robert Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon.

    As this thread developed, I recalled having read this book as a teenager, but couldn’t come up with the title. (Big fan of Heinlein at the time) Thanks for the memory jog.

  28. My point was that we as a species cannot even get along with other members of our own kind who display slight genetic differences such as skin colour. How can you possibly imagine humans are ready to begin moving toward perfection(?) by genetic manipulation when we cannot resolve even the most basic of our problems such as war and famine?

    You might as well complain that a child shouldn’t attempt to walk because it will fall down go boom.  I have no doubt we will make painful mistakes, but we’ll learn from them. 

    I don’t know about war, but GM foods just might be able to do something about famine.  Should a scientist say; “I know how to produce twice as much food, but I should hold back until the legislatures of all countries involved fix their economic policies and their peoples achieve universal brotherhood?”

  29. Well for every step forwards mankind has taken one back, I don’t see people are any better off now than they were before the industrial revolution. We traded off mass production and mechanized farming, for pollution. As for advances in medical science, it seems most of the worst diseases they are trying to cure are symptoms of our ‘progress’, such as the increase in cancers, due to our carcinogen laden environment and foodchain, all thanks to industrialisation.

    The thing about children walking DOF is that they are supposed to walk, that’s why they have legs. I seriously question wether mankind is supposed to tinker with his own genetics, of course time will be the judge of that. I cannot predict what will happen any more than you can. I am just on the skeptical side, judging from mankinds past wondrous achievements that have put the world in the sorry state it is right now.

    Just my opinion by the way, so there’s no need for debate, that’s just how I feel about it based on the evidence I have before me. grin

  30. Just my opinion by the way, so there’s no need for debate, that’s just how I feel about it based on the evidence I have before me.

    Sorry, you don’t get off that easily, Sarai.  You just made statements that are factually erroneous and would, if turned into policy, affect the lives of billions of people.

    As for the ‘evidence before you’, you need to go back in time and try living in the simpler, more wholsome past.  Most of your time would be taken up just surviving and even at that you might quickly fail.  You could fall prey to a number of diseases that hardly exist anymore or health problems largely eliminated by modern health standards. 

    But the bright side is you probably wouldn’t live long enough to get cancer – that’s mostly an old person’s disease.  As for those cancers that strike young people, back in ye olden days, they could do precisely nothing to help whereas the survival rate is increasing every day now. 

    Your life would pretty much be spent in ignorance of anything beyond your little village due to lack of communication technology.  That may be OK with you but judging by the size of the telecom industry most do not feel that way.

    If you think the world is in an unusually sorry state now, you simply have not read enough history. 

    As for what mankind is ‘supposed’ to do, well that implies a supposer, of which there is precious little hard evidence.  But that’s just my opinion; no need for debate, it’s just the way I feel.  wink

  31. Well for every step forwards mankind has taken one back, I don’t see people are any better off now than they were before the industrial revolution.

    What sort of an assinine, simple minded, stick your head in the sand comment is that???
    I have to agree with that decrepit old fool from the States that there are always people that will be against progress and “evolution” with wails of anguish about “why can’t things stay the same!!

  32. Just because I don’t agree with you, doesn’t make me ‘wrong’. I don’t like modern life, and I don’t feel the picture you paint of pre industrial life is as bleak as all that. I’d be quite happy to go and live in that era thank you.

    The facts are that large areas of our planet are now becoming polluted, our seas once the source of wildly abundant food, are now toxic and starved. So if we continue with this wonderful ‘progress’ I think the discussion will be academic as we will probably ‘progress’ ourselves to extinction.

    It is quite amusing that our perspectives differ quite markedly, I personally couldn’t care less if ‘man’ needs to prove himself with these amazing progressions. I just wish he’d do so in a more considerate and farsighted way. One which considered the people who have to clean up or live with the mistakes he makes now.

  33. In many ways I agree with Serai and I see nothing “asinine” about her statements. In fact, I agree almost fully with her last post. At worst, her comments are a bit idealistic, but that is certainly not a crime. I myself am not particularly enamored with the idea of living in a possible industrial wasteland (pardon the cliche). I am very much a “back to nature” sort.

    Then again, this is an aspect of my personality that I do not necessarily wish to see imposed onto society at large. It disturbs me greatly to see environmental damage incurred through the effects of industrialization, but this is a problem which can be ameliorated through more responsible/advanced technology (I certainly do anything I can to protect the environment around me). Furthermore, it is only through cultural and societal advancement that we can truly attain a liberated society, and it is inevitable that technology will advance as well.

  34. I won’t go into all the details about life in pre-industrial times except to give you this one quote “life was short and brutal” -end of story.
    Sure we have things to correct but overall the balance swings in favour of progress.
    PS assinine was a typo, not spelling (asinine)

  35. Does anybody remember the historical documentaries Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) did a few years ago? I could kick myself for not recording them…

    One of episodes was about the proverbial Dark Middle Ages. In a nutshell, ignoring health care and a perhaps a few other issues, life at the time didn’t suck quite as bad as one might believe. Of course, life was short and often ended by violence. On the other hand, arguably the social safety net was superior to what he have in so-called modern times. At least in the U.K., which he focused on, things didn’t go down the toilet until the Middle Ages were long gone.

  36. Have to wonder about what might come from our increasing use of technology.

    And what about the abuse to our atmosphere as China and India emerge. downer
    22nd century man will need good lungs or die. Could mean he’ll have to evolve.

  37. PERSONAL COMFORT should not be used as a measure of human progress.  Yes, life ‘way back when’ was short and brutal, but we reproduced enough to compensate.  When talking evolution or species-level ANYTHING, the individuals are functionally irrelevant, as you are looking at paterns over (at least) generations.

    We’ve gone from people who worked hard, lived fast and died young, to fat, unmotivated lazy Americanised slimef***s.  If you think that human kind has ‘progressed’ so far, (versus the other argument that technological revolution is occuring at a pace far outstripping the nessesary social and biological evolution,) then I must honstly ask you when the last time the magority (50%+1) came together to even TRY to solve a SINGLE PROBLEM?  The closest would probably be WWII, and it fell apart after that.  Save the world from pollution, cancer etc?  Sure!  But not if we have to go a day without broadband!

    Our ‘most advanced country’ spends $268M to go see the scooby doo movie, and can’t muster that in a single year to research AIDS/cancer AND global warming combined.

    Humans have grea potential.  Humans can invent great things.

    Humans aren’t MATURE enough to USE them yet, however.  In the context of evolution, I blame this all on medicine, and labels.  My personal theory is that around the ime we figured out the ‘medicinal plants’ things, we started guiding our own evolution.  Suddenly, the stupid ones kept surviving long enough to breed.

    The first step should be to pull the warning labels off everything, and let ‘survival of the fittest’ pick who gets to breed.  Humankind has, in my opinion, forgotten how to COOPERATE.  We got where we are because there was a NEED to invent that new agricultural method, or a need to stop that plague, etc. etc.  People came together to provide the resources, manpower, etc. to do this.  Now, GREED has replaced NEED as the foremost driver in the ongoing technological revolution.  Our New Masters want more and more resources for themselves, (giant world-class pissing ocntest, anyone?) while the comforts ttechnology has provided us dull our will to resist, co-operate, revolt and ferment true social change.

    Humans controlling thier own genome?  ARE YOU MAD?!?  Some elements of R&D (such as GM foods) can cheerfully be left up to the greedy, and they will do a Good Job, becuase otherwise they will not obtain the extra amount of Resources that they desire.  Geniticaly modifying humans, however, it not something you can simply do by trial and error.  We have international treaties and pesky things like ethics that get in the way.  GM Humans would reuire careful onsideration, planning, thought, and planetary-scale cooperation, as we would have to Get It Right The First Time.  I am sorry to inform you of this, but there aren’t any leaders left who are great enough to unite us in THAT kind of effort.

  38. ModH: The first step should be to pull the warning labels off everything,

    Yeah. I’m sure you’d give your child something from a bottle without a label.
    It’s all good in THEORY.
    Try a bit Optimism or at least Pessimistic Optimism as I do. LOL
    As Eric Idle sang: Always look on the bright side of life –

  39. If we don’t press forward with genetically modified foods, there’s a chance that private interest will pick up the tab – at which point what we know and how we are able to use it is entirely up to them.

    Already happened- see George Monbiot book, Captive State, chapter ‘Padlock on the food chain’ Farmers cant keep some seeds from a GMO crop back, as the DNA belongs to the company.  Monsanto insist that only Monsanto approved herbicides are used on it crops.  More frightening is the patenting of human DNA.  One hospital which developed a test for genetic illness was not allowed to use it because that gene was patented- they had to use the ‘approved’ test, for which they had to pay royalties. (as it is 3am I cant find the precise examples at the moment- but these are in there).

  40. Modernhating: “PERSONAL COMFORT should not be used as a measure of human progress…  We’ve gone from people who worked hard, lived fast and died young, to fat, unmotivated lazy Americanised slimef***s…”

    What a steaming load of taurus residue.  Technologically advanced cities are far more tolerant, open places than rural, pre-technological villages.

  41. Technologically advanced cities are far more tolerant, open places than rural, pre-technological villages.

    You would know, DoF.  Which one is Normal, Illinois? LOL

    GM Humans would require careful consideration, planning, thought, and planetary-scale cooperation, as we would have to Get It Right The First Time.  I am sorry to inform you of this, but there aren’t any leaders left who are great enough to unite us in THAT kind of effort.

    What about the Antichrist, MH? Maybe that 666 thingie will be programmed into our genes. LOL

    Seriously- genetic modification is playing with fire.  But like fire, it has great potential to improve our lives, if used very carefully.  And I too thank you for enlarging my vocabulary- I will try to work “slimefuck” into my conversation as often as possible.

  42. As long as we’re on the subject of slimefuck- here are some memories that came to me.  Skip this if you just ate breakfast…

    Reptiles, like platypussies, are monotremes.  That means they have just one hole to do their business, instead of the two that the less advanced of us, and the three the more advanced of us have.  Since “number one” and “number two” come out all mixed up in reptiles, it can be a rather slimy hole.  Just a little background.

    I dreamt I fucked a T. Rex.  She took my whole head gently in her mouth- that’s a T. Rex kiss.  We did it from the front- I was afraid she was going to crush me- and then dino style from the side, which she preferred.

    She was very slimy.  What with the slime, and those teeth and all, I didn’t think I could come, but I thought it prudent not to offend her, so I faked it.  I guess it worked, because she didn’t eat me.

    And you all thought I was weird before this…

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