Friday, December 23, 2005

Civilization has left its mark on our genes

And speaking of intelligent design, here's an article from New Scientist about recent human evolution.
[According to Robert Moyzis and his colleagues at the University of California, Irvine] around 1800 genes, or roughly 7% of the total in the human genome, have changed under the influence of natural selection within the past 50,000 years. … That is roughly the same proportion of genes that were altered in maize when humans domesticated it from its wild ancestors.

"Domesticated" humans
Moyzis speculates that we may have similarly "domesticated" ourselves with the emergence of modern civilisation.

"One of the major things that has happened in the last 50,000 years is the development of culture," he says. "By so radically and rapidly changing our environment through our culture, we've put new kinds of selection [pressures] on ourselves."

Genes that aid protein metabolism — perhaps related to a change in diet with the dawn of agriculture — turn up unusually often in Moyzis's list of recently selected genes. So do genes involved in resisting infections, which would be important in a species settling into more densely populated villages where diseases would spread more easily. Other selected genes include those involved in brain function, which could be important in the development of culture.

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