• Question: Will humans ever likely evolve again?

    Asked by edbrk04 to Laurent, Alex on 29 Jun 2018.
    • Photo: Alex Haragan

      Alex Haragan answered on 29 Jun 2018:


      Evolution is one of those scientific notions that is widely misunderstood by many outside (and even inside) of science.
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      It is often thought of as becoming more advanced or gaining an extra skill or physical trait. However it is important to remember the basic principle of evolution: adapt to survive.
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      Even within that context it is often thought of incorrectly – it isn’t about a species actively adapting to an environment, rather, it is the loss of members of that species that narrows the gene-pool down to specific traits that benefit survival.
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      Lets use an example: the classic one I was taught in school was that of moths in certain parts of the UK during the industrial revolution. This specific species of moth varied in wing colour – from dark brown to light brown. In nature, the most successful ones had been the lighter ones as they were more camouflaged on the trees. When the industrial revolution and lots of coal burning occurred – trees and other surfaces became blackened, so the darker winged ones were more successful.
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      If we think about it – it wasn’t light moths becoming darker that happened, simply that where before on average more light moths lived, with coal burning, more died. So there were more dark moths and these became the dominant type. This change happened rapidly (and reversed as we no longer burn coal here) so is maybe not really an example of evolution, but it does illustrate the reasons for it.
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      So its less about active change – and more about the fact that specific genetic traits convey survival – and given an extreme enough condition and enough time (many, many generations) it can lead to certain traits all but disappearing and others becoming more exaggerated. >
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      So going back to your question – as humans we have an incredibly global world and we are really good at keeping people alive. As a species we won’t diverge away from each other as significantly as we have in the past (wherever humans came from we spread to all parts of the world and centuries of relative isolation lead to many of our differences) and remembering that evolution takes tens of thousands of years to be noticed by a species that lives as long as we do – it means that, in theory we never stop “evolving” but we don’t have conditions that will radically alter how we currently look for many aeons yet!

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