Not only are human beings still evolving, but it looks like life in civilization may be pressuring us to evolve faster than ever. A groundbreaking new study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the cultural environment of homo sapiens, including high population density and rapid immigration patterns, is exerting pressure on humans to mutate and evolve. This flies in the face of the accepted evolutionary wisdom that culture protects us from the kind of natural selection that made our ancestor's skull so strange in that picture. Want to know what we're evolving into? After the jump.
Sorry, we're not becoming post-human yet. But that is probably in the cards. One of the authors of the study, John Hawks, is an anthropology professor at the University of Wisconsin and a prolific blogger. He's writing a series of helpful posts to go with the scientific article, explaining everything you might want to know about accelerating evolution.
So what's changed most over the last 40,000 years? Humans' skeletal structures, skin color, teeth, disease resistance, and ability to metabolize certain foods (like milk). So if history is any guide, our entire bodily structures and phenotypes, as well as what we can eat, are still changing. With the help of a little genetic engineering, we might be six-limbed glass-eaters before you know it. Image courtesy of AFP/Getty Images.
Selection Spurred Recent Evolution [New York Times]