Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Humanity is still evolving

It has been hypothesized that modern humans are not evolving anymore. Evolution, of the kind Charles Darwin first publicized, requires selection pressure, and it is thought that our modern society does not offer enough competition to 'weed out the weak'. Research from the University of Sheffield points in the opposite direction, with scientists claiming mankind is still undergoing evolutionary changes. According to them, mankind has shown signs of evolution over the last couple of hundred years.

A Finnish population of about 6000 people born between 1760 and 1849 were included in the study, and assessed for factors that point to evolution. They tried to find signs of selection pressure, increasing or decreasing people's chances of procreation. Making offspring results in the spread of your genes, which is evolutionary beneficial: after all, in evolution, it is not the people who survive, but it is the genes.

By looking at old records, scientists learned about survival and mating success, the latter being the 'skill' by which one is able to get the opposite sex to copulate. They then linked these factors to reproductive success, which says something about whether an individual was able to produce offspring. After statistically analysing all the old records, scientists found a link between being able to survive, the ability to find a mate, and reproductive success. That means these basic evolutionary traits are still of influence in human beings.

While these results may seem obvious, it is proof that the basic principles of evolution are still at work in human beings. Linking survival and mating success to reproductive success shows that mankind still has the potential for 'old-fashioned' evolution. After all, due to our medicine and radical changes in society, the ability to survive on your own has become a lot less important for reproduction. As for mating success, mankind is constantly defying evolution with every condom or contraceptive pill used. That means the traditional links do not necessarily exist anymore, as survival skills and mate finding do not necessarily translate in having the best shot at reproduction, the holy grail of evolution. But the study performed by the University of Sheffield shows that evolution as outlined by Darwin is likely still happening.
What comes next?

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