Documenting the Coming Singularity

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is human evolution accelerating? - Human evolution kicks into high gear

MSNBC - February 10, 2009 by Kathleen McAuliffe

Researchers debate whether our species is growing apart or together

For decades the consensus view — among the public as well as the world’s preeminent biologists—has been that human evolution is over. Since modern Homo sapiens emerged 50,000 years ago, “natural selection has almost become irrelevant” to us, the influential Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould proclaimed. “There have been no biological changes. Everything we’ve called culture and civilization we’ve built with the same body and brain.”

This view has become so entrenched that it is practically doctrine. Even the founders of evolutionary psychology, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, signed on to the notion that our brains were mostly sculpted during the long period when we were hunter-gatherers and have changed little since. “Our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind,” they wrote in a background piece on the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

So to suggest that humans have undergone an evolutionary makeover from Stone Age times to the present is nothing short of blasphemous. Yet a team of researchers has done just that.

They find an abundance of recent adaptive mutations etched in the human genome; even more shocking, these mutations seem to be piling up faster and ever faster, like an avalanche. Over the past 10,000 years, their data show, human evolution has occurred a hundred times more quickly than in any other period in our species’ history.

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