Is human evolution finally over?

February 4, 2002 | Source: The Observer

A group of biologists believe a Western lifestyle now protects humanity from the forces that used to shape Homo sapiens — virtually everybody’s genes are making it to the next generation, not only those who are best adapted to their environments.
In addition, human populations are now being constantly mixed, again producing a blending that blocks evolutionary change.

Peter Ward, of the University of Washington, in his book, Future Evolution, argues that modern Western life protects people from the effects of evolution. “I don’t think we are going to see any changes — apart from ones we deliberately introduce ourselves, when we start to bio-engineer people, by introducing genes into their bodies, so they live longer or are stronger and healthier.”

However, other scientists believe evolutionary pressures are still operating. For example, the biologist Christopher Wills, of the University of California, San Diego, argues that ideas are now driving our evolution. “There is a premium on sharpness of mind and the ability to accumulate money. Such people tend to have more children and have a better chance of survival,” he says.

If people start to live to 150, and are capable of producing children for more than 100 of those years, the effects could be dramatic, he says. “People will start to produce dozens of children in their lifetimes, and that will certainly start to skew our evolution. These people will also have more chance to accumulate wealth as well. So we will have created a new race of fecund, productive individuals and that could have dramatic consequences.

“However, that will only come about when we directly intervene in our own evolution, using cloning and gene therapy. Without that, nothing will happen.”

News tip: darrylc