• Question: are humans still evolving and why why not? have we stopped evolving in the developed world?

    Asked by louiser to Alison, Becky, Connie, Gemma, John Robert, Sara on 21 Jan 2014.
    • Photo: Constanze Ochmann

      Constanze Ochmann answered on 21 Jan 2014:

      Hi there

      I think humans are still evolving- it is just that we can not see it (yet).
      Evolution is a process, which takes time- a lot of time, we talk about 100,000s to millions of years. I do actually think the the developed world will challenge human bodies to evolve even further. Remember the experiment in the christmas lectures about the “worms” in the trees and the pairs of children with the different mutations- one pair standing tall, one pair on their knees, one blind…. You could see that the ones standing on their legs did catch the most sweets. Now imagine our modern world is some kind of sweet, something new – something different- someone will eventually adapt to get to these new sweets, adapt better to our modern lifes, and will eat them and succeed while others won’t. Some of the challenges we face at the moment are the changes in our lifestyles, our diets, but also changes to our environment (like climate change) could force us to become better adapted, could force us to change, to evolve. It is just that we probably will not see it ourselves. Evolution (little changes here and there) might happen in front of our noses right now, but it will take a long time, until we can see the ‘new human being’ and analyse how we actually have evolved and how it happened.

    • Photo: Gemma Swiers

      Gemma Swiers answered on 21 Jan 2014:

      I think Connie has answered this question really well, and I hope my answer helps too…

      You’ve asked a really good question that is difficult to answer. Evolution happens very slowly, and requires information (genes) to be passed down from generation to generation from your mum, to her daughter, to the grand daughter, to the great-grand daughter. In evolutionary terms a thousand years is like a blink of an eye. To see whether humans are still evolving now means that we would have to look thousands of years in the future to see if we are. We obviously can’t do this, and we don’t know what to look for in the future to show that we are evolving, but we can look at thousands of years ago and see that humans were evolving then. For example people who carry the gene for sickle cell anaemia are not affected (they are resistant) to malaria. In areas where malaria-carrying mosquitoes live natural selection has selected for people carrying the sickle cell gene so that they are resistant to malaria.

      Some people believe that humans have stopped evolving because so many more of us survive birth and are able to have children (reproduce). However because some of us have children and pass their genes on to those children, and those genes are being mutated every day, it makes sense to say that humans are still evolving but we just can’t see it.