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Researchers Say Human Brain is Still Evolving

CowboyNeal posted more than 8 years ago | from the smarter-better-faster dept.

Biotech 923

Oleg Alexandrov writes "Two genes involved in determining the size of the human brain have undergone substantial evolution in the last 60,000 years, researchers say, suggesting that the brain is still undergoing rapid evolution. The discovery adds further weight to the view that human evolution is still a work in progress, since previous instances of recent genetic change have come to light in genes that defend against disease and confer the ability to digest milk in adulthood."

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923 comments

It's remarkable how wrong this is (5, Insightful)

nokilli (759129) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515321)

First off, it's hard to see *any* species as being in anything other than a state of evolution. To suggest otherwise implies a superficial understand of what evolution is about.

That being said, it's conceivable that we're at the point where the human brain is the exception to the above. After all, what has been the driving force behind the evolution of the brain? Big-brained people surviving and succeeding in reproduction where little-brained people fail.

This isn't really happening anymore. Yes, smart people still trump over stupid people in most aspects of life, but stupid people still reproduce. Civilization has removed the engine through which drives the evolution of the species.

I can't believe how often highly educated people will pontificate on this subject, and get it wrong. Yes, usually the media is to blame -- science reporting is notoriously bad -- but that does not appear to be the case here.

Ironic that they should be so wrong on this of all subjects.
--
You didn't know. [tinyurl.com]

Re:It's remarkable how wrong this is (3, Interesting)

CDMA_Demo (841347) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515353)


First off, it's hard to see *any* species as being in anything other than a state of evolution. To suggest otherwise implies a superficial understand of what evolution is about.

I beg to differ. With the current state of affairs in several countries and the way people in the east are connected to what the west does, I propose that we consider not only the human brain, but the human species itself as an exception. We are undergoing convolution [wikipedia.org] instead of evolution. Besides, human evolution is not a safe subject in some countries anymore...

Re:It's remarkable how wrong this is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515359)

Mods on crack: why was this modded flamebait???

Re:It's remarkable how wrong this is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515388)

> ...but stupid people still reproduce...

Re:It's remarkable how wrong this is (5, Informative)

John Hawks (624818) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515396)

Well, it sure might look that way, but these genes strongly suggest that something related to cognition was under strong selection throughout history.

One of the two genes, ASPM, appears to have come under selection only 5800 years ago; but it is now at around 20 percent, with a frequency of near 50 percent in some Near Eastern populations. Whatever this allele does, it had a selective advantage of more than 5 percent. They don't know it necessarily makes people smarter, but it's hard to think what else it might be.

That's really the neat part; that it shows that this idea of "survival of the dumbest" is apparently not what has been happening. Instead, there is every reason to think we have been getting smarter.

The submission doesn't mention the most problematic part: These alleles are high frequency in some populations, but absent or low frequency in others -- suggesting there may be adaptive differences in the brain among human populations. From my weblog post: [johnhawks.net]

Geneticists are increasingly finding genetic variants that affect behavior. Several of these variants are now known to vary in frequency in different human populations. These alleles are two; the 7r allele of the dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) gene is another that influences ADD/ADHD susceptibility (Harpending and Cochran 2002). The selective structure underlying DRD4 variation may be frequency-dependent, with different alleles correlating with alternative behavioral strategies that pose greater or lesser advantages in some populations. It is not clear whether such a mechanism is true of ASPM and Microcephalin; the selected alleles have risen to such high frequencies in some populations that it seems they are not mere alternatives; they are unilaterally advantageous -- at least where they have become common already.
--John

Re:It's remarkable how wrong this is (2, Insightful)

SQL Error (16383) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515481)

One of the two genes, ASPM, appears to have come under selection only 5800 years ago; but it is now at around 20 percent, with a frequency of near 50 percent in some Near Eastern populations. Whatever this allele does, it had a selective advantage of more than 5 percent.

It's the morning coffee gene!

Re:It's remarkable how wrong this is (4, Interesting)

nokilli (759129) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515517)

They don't know it necessarily makes people smarter, but it's hard to think what else it might be.
Deference to authority perhaps? The gene that enables groupthink, which, today seems to be sending us into the abyss but thousands of years ago meant the difference between one tribe surviving another?

The whole business with the alleles and DRD4, I don't know anything about that. I just found the way that the conclusion was stated here to be clumsy. Rather than talk about the brain still evolving, a more accurate headline might be "Path of human brain's evolution identified".

The coverage evolution has received of late has been spooky. I'm seeing all kinds of signs that the MSM is trying to accommodate "intelligent design", an agenda that is served by implying that human evolution was thought to have stopped somehow.

Now that I'm looking at it again, maybe it is another case of bad reporting.

These days it's the poor who tend to reproduce ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515505)

The handouts increase as the number of children increase.

Re:It's remarkable how wrong this is (5, Funny)

Cruithne (658153) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515557)

The solution to this problem is obvious.... only let the people with an IQ above X have sex :D

If you mod me down or reply negatively, you lose sex priveledges too :D

huh (2, Funny)

HostGeekZ (913498) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515324)

I always knew my brain was never fully developed and I don't think it ever will be.

Re:huh (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515429)

My brain continues to evolve because I keep killing the weak cells with beer.

take that you intelligent desing thoricists (0, Flamebait)

muzik4machines (834892) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515328)

Evolution will never stop, here is another proof

Re:take that you intelligent desing thoricists (2, Informative)

higuy48 (568572) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515340)

I was pondering whether or not to totally theadjack this topic, but it seems you have made the decision for me.

This won't stop them. This is mircoevolution. What they're claiming is that we couldn't have possibly speciated from very simple cells and organisms to what we are today. They are disputing macroevolution.

Re:take that you intelligent desing thoricists (2, Funny)

richdun (672214) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515364)

...now if only natural selection would remove those who type too fast to think or spell check.

Duh? (5, Insightful)

Dimensio (311070) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515333)

Evolution is not attempting to attain a certain "goal" at which it stops. Evolution is simply the result of certain genetic traits being selected based upon environmental pressures. It shouldn't be too surprising that evolution still occurs in humans so long as there is a situation where some genetic traits are more likely to be passed on through reproduction than others.

I guess this could be news to people who don't actually understand evolution -- which, given the popularity of pseudoscience like "Intelligent Design" and non-science like "Creation Science" -- probably is quite a bit. Unfortunately, experience shows that they don't really care to learn anything about evolution anyway, so chances are they'll do little but mock the findings without even trying to understand them.

Re:Duh? (1)

rbarreira (836272) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515406)

Yeah, if we talk about the past 60,000 years period this doesn't amaze me much. But if we talk about the present, I would say I doubt there's much evolution. Our society doesn't favor it.

Re:Duh? (1)

PhatKat (78180) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515412)

the way this article is put seems to sensationalize it, implicitly comparing evolution to progress or something like it. Evolution cannot be stopped in living population under any circumstances except what the astute poster above me stated. But even in that case I would argue that evolution isn't static... even if traits are passed on with the same likeliness, they will still be combined in different ways.

Theory or God?? (-1, Troll)

John Seminal (698722) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515454)

given the popularity of pseudoscience like "Intelligent Design"

Now that is a loaded statement.

Evolution is nothing but a theory. Ask any REAL biologist (like those with Ph.D.'s or those who work in colleges), and they will admit evolution is a theory. It is not fact. It is not a scientific law.

The cool thing Intelligent Design is we know God made us.

Think about how the world was made. Science has a theory called "Big Bang". It is a theory which states that in the start the mass was so dense, it exploded and everything flew away randomly, making stars and planets, and life.

For any people who know statistics, what is the probability of that happening? How many times would I have to flip a quarter and get heads in a row? 100,000,000,000 times? 100,000,000,000,000 times?

You would have a better chance at taking a watch, hitting it with a hammer until it was broken into 1000 peices, and then putting it in a bag, shaking the bag, and having the watch come back together out of the random movements.

God made life. It is called a soul.

Re:Theory or God?? (2, Informative)

CurlyG (8268) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515488)

Yes, I think you *should* consult a real scientist, and ask them what "theory" means in a scentific context, and then get them to explain to you the difference between a theory and a hypothesis, as you clearly haven't the faintest idea what you're blathering about.

You're welcome.

Re:Theory or God?? (0, Troll)

John Seminal (698722) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515541)

Yes, I think you *should* consult a real scientist, and ask them what "theory" means in a scentific context, and then get them to explain to you the difference between a theory and a hypothesis, as you clearly haven't the faintest idea what you're blathering about.

A hypothesis is any idiots guess. A theory is the guess of a person with many letters behind their name. :p

For example, the bartender thinks the Patriots will beat the Raiders by 4 points. That is a hypothesis. The bookie says the Pats are getting 6 points, that is a theory.

Now a law, that is if Danny the Butcher talks with Tom Brady and has an understanding.

That my friend, is how the world works.

That is the education at The University of Hard Knocks. Byatch!

Re:Theory or God?? (1)

Dimensio (311070) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515552)

A theory is the guess of a person with many letters behind their name. :p

Wrong. If you don't understand the definition of "theory" in a scientific context, including the criteria that a given explanation must meet in order to be labelled a "theory", then you have no credibility when discussing science.

Re:Theory or God?? (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515524)

You appear to misunderstand the following concepts: Theory, fact, law, big bang, statistics, life.

Theory - something backed up with evidence, and has made successful predictions.

Intelligent Design - not a theory, but instead conjecture; a made up idea.

Learn the nature of science. (5, Insightful)

Dimensio (311070) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515539)

Now that is a loaded statement.

No, it isn't.

Evolution is nothing but a theory.

Creationists say this like it means that it's somehow on shaky ground. It isn't. "Theory" is the highest level that any explanation reaches in science. There is no higher label. The dismissing of evolution as "nothing but a theory" only demonstrates that the one making the dismissal is fundamentally ignorant of scientific terminology.

Ask any REAL biologist (like those with Ph.D.'s or those who work in colleges), and they will admit evolution is a theory.

And theories never get any higher in rank.

It is not fact.

"Facts" are simply statements about single observations, nothing more. "Facts" really don't mean anything in the long run in science.

It is not a scientific law.

And it never will be. Despite the ignorant rantings of creationists, theories do not ever become laws. Theories and laws are two different types of statements. Laws are general statements about collections of previous observations by which future observations are predicted. Theories are an attempt to explain the underlying causes of the observation. Example: the "Law of gravity" is a model of the resultant force caused by gravitational attraction between two masses. The theory of gravity -- more commonly known as "relativity theory" -- is an attempt to explain why that force occurs.

Laws are no more certain than theories. Theores do not "graduate" into laws. Laws can just as easily be falsified -- in fact, the "Law of Gravity" as we know it from Newton is false. Saying that "evolution is a theory, not a law" as if this casts some doubt on the validity of evolution again only demonstrates that you are fundamentally ignorant of how science works.

The cool thing Intelligent Design is we know God made us.

No, Intelligent Design postulates -- based upon faulty premises -- that certain features in biological systems are too "complex" to have come about through evolution, and therefore must have been "designed" by some unnamed designer. "God" doesn't enter into "Intelligent Design" as it is presented by the shysters who try to shove it into school cirriculums.

That you think that it directly refers to a god -- especially the God that you happen to worship -- only further demonstrates that ID is nothing but a sham to try to sneak religion into schools.

As for "know", I'm sorry but claiming that you "know" something isn't valid justification for scientific consideration. If you have no evidence, then you have no case.

Think about how the world was made. Science has a theory called "Big Bang". It is a theory which states that in the start the mass was so dense, it exploded and everything flew away randomly, making stars and planets, and life.

The Big Bang doesn't cover abiogenesis. Please actually learn the science behind it before attempting to discuss it.

For any people who know statistics, what is the probability of that happening? How many times would I have to flip a quarter and get heads in a row? 100,000,000,000 times? 100,000,000,000,000 times?

You know the statistical likelyhood? Please present the math. Show all of your work. If you can't then you don't have a case. Please avoid the fallacy of pointing to the "likelyhood" of the universe appearing in its exact configuration as it is and pretending that the universe couldn't have just as easily supported life had it come about in a somewhat different configuration unless you can demonstrate that it is the case.

You would have a better chance at taking a watch, hitting it with a hammer until it was broken into 1000 peices, and then putting it in a bag, shaking the bag, and having the watch come back together out of the random movements.

False analogy, demonstrating a fundamental ignorance of cosmology. Try to understand why physicists say what they say about universal origins before thinking that you're an expert certified to tear the leading theory regarding universal origins apart.

And please stop bringing up the Big Bang here. We're talking about the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution has nothing to do with the Big Bang. Stop pulling this discussion off-topic.

God made life. It is called a soul.

This is an assertion. You make it with no evidence whatsoever. Why should I believe this claim?

umm... no? (1)

xilmaril (573709) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515564)

visualize this. the big bang happens, everything goes randomly everywhere, then gravity starts bringing it together, making the universe 'chunky' as it currently is. try breaking apart a watch, shaking it in a bag, and having none of the bits stick together. and there's not even a force making watch-bits fall together in that analogy.

and the whole 'god created us' thing only works if you believe in god. I'm sure that works for you, but the majority of people aren't christian, so searching for other explanations is kinda neccesary.

p.s. - the pope believes in evolution. he has said so, in official papal newsletters. doesn't matter for you unless you're catholic, but just saying, believing in god doesn't mean you believe in intelligent design.

link [wayoflife.org] the first link google provided me with on the pope subject.

Re:Duh? (2, Informative)

brianf711 (873109) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515468)

Actually, evolution is more complicated than just natural selection.

There are 5 conditions where Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium does not apply and thus evolution is occuring.

While natural selection is one of these, the others include non-random mating, mutations, genetic drift (small populations may be more sensitive to random events) and migration (gene flow).

Since all of these events are occuring at some degree, the short response to the article is of course evolution is occurring, as you pointed out, but not just because of natural selection. What is interesting, and I didn't read the article so bear with me, is whether there is a correlation with "intelligence" and surviving offspring. This is where natural selection would favor or disfavor intelligence. Perhaps more intelligent people have fewer children, but are able to raise them and get them access to medicine and other factors that could enhance their survival, but maybe this isn't the case as well.

Re:Duh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515520)

I guess this could be news to people who don't actually understand evolution -- which, given the popularity of pseudoscience like "Intelligent Design" and non-science like "Creation Science" -- probably is quite a bit.

The proponents of these viewpoints often promote large family sizes to their followers because it's far easier to indoctrinate blank slates than people who already have minds of their own. Ironically, this creates evolutionary pressure against the understanding of evolution.

Re:Duh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515558)

Th chimpanzee genome sequencing has just been completed and the scientific community are beginning to to examine the "diff human_genome chimp_genome" result. The diff is not really that big. (even smaller depending upon the individual concerned) :)

Counter-evidence... (5, Funny)

FyRE666 (263011) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515341)

Researchers Say Human Brain is Still Evolving

I guess these guys have never browsed Slashdot at -1 then... And how do they explain George Bush, Beanie Babies and the Crazy Frog? And where did they get a 60,000 year old brain from to find these genes - Joan Rivers' skull? No no no, none of this is adding up...

Re:Counter-evidence... (1)

cortana (588495) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515392)

"how do they explain George Bush, Beanie Babies and the Crazy Frog?"
Remember that the bell curve [wikipedia.org] is symmetric. :)

Re:Counter-evidence... (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515420)

OK, OK, so a spike of 16 standard deviations at the low end of the scale is going to pull the whole thing to the left...

Re:Counter-evidence... (0, Flamebait)

John Seminal (698722) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515495)

"how do they explain George Bush, Beanie Babies and the Crazy Frog?"

Remember that the bell curve is symmetric. :)

Yeah, with whites at one end and blacks on the other. ;)

Now flame me away...

As for Bush, he is very smart. It is all an act of being dumb. When he was governor, he did not mistakes when giving speeches. What happened was Bush decided to win the presidency, he needed to win the south. So he became more like them. :p

Seriously, Bush is not a dummy. He went to Yale. If he was so stupid, how did he get into Yale? And why is everyone bitching when a black gets into The University of Michigan School of Law? How is it different?

Now Troll me....

Re:Counter-evidence... (1)

Aggressiva (883402) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515554)

"he did not mistakes when giving speeches."

Nice grammar considering what a dummy you believe GWB to be. What's that you say? You made a mistake? Well no shit, that's what humans do, isn't it?

Re:Counter-evidence... (4, Insightful)

Tim (686) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515409)

And how do they explain George Bush, Beanie Babies and the Crazy Frog?

Evolution optimizes for survival, nothing else. And unfortunately, in this country, there is a strong selective pressure against intelligence.

Sarcasm and "bling" on the other hand....

Re:Counter-evidence... (1)

znu (31198) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515574)

You might need to consider tweaking your definition of "intelligence". Don't think of the sort of intelligence it requires to write computer software -- think of the sort of intelligence it requires to make people laugh at parties, or to successfully navigate social hierarchies. These types of intelligence are definitely not selected against.

Moreover, I'd like to see a study showing an actual selection against more technical sorts of intelligence. The stereotypical anti-social geek isn't, in my experience, actually all that representative of the total pool of people with strong technical skills. And anyway, even geeks seem to primarily be at a disadvantage with members of the opposite sex during high school and college. It's not clear that there's any significant correlation between being popular in school and having kids later in life.

Re:Counter-evidence... (2, Funny)

macdaddy357 (582412) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515430)

It would be great if the human brain would evolve in such a way that it would be repulsive to zombies, and they wouldn't want to eat out brains any more.

Sounds promising.... (3, Funny)

sigmaseven (906671) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515346)

Any chance of speeding up the process before the 2008 elections?

/in Kansas, so it might not even apply, anyhow

From TFA (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515464)

"But several experts strongly criticized this aspect of the finding, saying it was far from clear that the new alleles conferred any cognitive advantage or had spread for that reason"

Looks like we can evolve all we want...it's not necesarily going to make us smarter. Certainly not by 2008.

Re:Sounds promising.... (0, Troll)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515473)

> Any chance of speeding up the [evolutionary] process before the 2008 elections?

Yeah - cut it out with the "flamebait", asshole!

WRONGTHINKING WILL BE PUNISHED! CONFORM! CONFORM! CONFORM!

Can someone explain... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515354)

to this simpleton, what is significant about the ability to drink milk during adulthood? Could we not in the past?

Re:Can someone explain... (4, Informative)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515504)

what is significant about the ability to drink milk during adulthood?

Most of the world's population can't digest lactose (milk sugar) after the age of about 4. The ability to digest lactose appears to have evolved along with dairy farming. Those parts of the world which did not practice dairy farming remain lactose intolerant.
http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2002/june/lactose .htm [scienceinafrica.co.za]

Obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515365)

Obviously [stupidvideos.com]

Re:Obviously (4, Insightful)

MikeFM (12491) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515521)

There has never been any reason to think that just because a trait evolves into much of the population that it will reach all of the population. Your videos are probably of the population missing these, and other genes, that increase mental ability.

The intelligent are now protecting the stupid in much the same way mankind has protected cattle. The stupid tend to breed with other stupid while the intelligent tend to breed with other intelligent people. At some point this should lead to a split in the species as the two groups evolve in different directions. Still it'd take quite a change to make the two groups incompatible for mating so you'll likely see the occasional mix.

Stupid people tend to breed faster than intelligent people but they also tend to live less healthy lifes which probably increases their mortality rate. I'd still imagine stupid people produce more children that live long enough to themselves reproduce than intelligent people though. To bad this topic is taboo because it'd be pretty interesting to study.

In the meantime - geeks unite and breed! Don't let the moron inherit the Earth! The fewer children you have the more likely they'll be wage slaves to stupid people. Fight back - have sex (with yourself doesn't count)!

This is news? (2, Interesting)

HisMother (413313) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515366)

Every living thing is evolving. No creatures alive are genetically identical to ones living 60,000 years ago. At that time there were wooly mammoths, and saber-tooth tigers running around.

I suppose you could argue that this is useful ammo against the ID folks, but it's really only the Flying Spaghetti Monster acolytes and other True Believers who have the hubris to believe Homo Sapiens Sapiens is the pinnacle of creation, out of the box.

Nitpick (2, Informative)

Dimensio (311070) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515376)

Every living thing is evolving.

Living things don't evolve. Populations of living things either evolve, remain stagnant (which is very , very rare) or die out.

Re:Nitpick (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515503)

> Populations of living things either evolve, remain stagnant (which is very , very rare) or die out.

Can you explain Chicago Cubs fans?

The human brain... (4, Funny)

myowntrueself (607117) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515370)

is an organ for cooling the blood.

We actually think with our stomachs.

Obviously the cooling needs of the human body are still increasing over time. Probably linked to global warming.

Re:The human brain... (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515434)

We actually think with our stomachs

You must be a chick. Or a Eunich. There's only one head doing the thinking for most of /.'s readership, and it's not the one sitting on their shoulders.

As for cooling needs, your are certainly correct - it is due to global warming. Which brings us back to the fact that its George W Bush's fault.

It's so nice when all these things tie together so easily.

Re:The human brain... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515440)

is an organ for cooling the blood.

We actually think with our stomachs.

Obviously the cooling needs of the human body are still increasing over time. Probably linked to global warming.


And everyone knows George Bush is responsible for Global Warming.

So that means... George Bush is the Intelligent Designer!

Re:The human brain... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515486)

that's not far off. I was having serious problems I won't bore you with in my GI tract during a very depressed spell in my life. I went to a doctor who told me it was psychosomatic and that I should see a psychiatrist. I did, and I went onto SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). I talked to him about the connection between stomach and mood and he told me that you have more serotonin in your stomach than you do in your brain.

Oh yeah, he also told me that your sinuses are an erectile organ, and there are many people who report changes in the open- or closedness of their sinuses leading up to and during arousal.

Geez I figured out I was smarter then my parents (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515371)

years ago

Milk (2, Interesting)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515375)

I both lost and regained the ability to digest milk as an adult.

When I was 25 I went for about 4 months withough ingesting any milk products. When I tried again, I couldn't digest them.

When I was 29 I began to occasionally consume milk products and after a few months I was able to digest it again.

I had no idea that there was anything genetic about the production of the lactase enzyme into adulthood.

LK

Re:Milk (2, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515466)

Sounds like a case of "you don't use it, you lose it." That said, there are some people who could never have it.

Consider that natures way of weening many animals is for the young to eventually lose the ability to utilize its mother's milk which requires it to seek nutrition elsewhere.

It's interesting to consider what driving evolutionary force produced this successful gene though... does anyone know how long humans have been consuming the milk of other animals?

Future Generations (1)

Namronorman (901664) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515377)

Can you imagine what our future generations will be like in say 10,000 years? Will we appear barbaric compared to them or will we be little to no different?

For all we know, those supposed little green men in the sky could actually be the humans of the future studying their history.

Now, wait a second... (4, Insightful)

rasafras (637995) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515380)

The world has changed a lot, and I mean a lot, in the past millenium (even 2-300 years). The selective pressures that were around previously, causing the stupid to die, are no longer present. In fact, there is very little selective pressure in today's society, where the number of offspring you have is rarely related to prosperity or the like. The death rate is so low that I can hardly imagine selective forces having a large effect on evolution. Random mutation still occurs, of course, and perhaps over the next millenium one society will evolve to be smarter and will destroy the other with superior technology, but I seriously doubt this. I'm one of those people that considers human evolution to be nearly frozen. Soon to be supplanted by willful manipulation, of course (ethics debate about this some other time).

Re:Now, wait a second... (1)

nwbvt (768631) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515445)

Uhh, they are not claiming it has evolved over the past couple hundred years, but rather over the last 60,000 years. 60,000 years ago there were plenty of forces acting as natural selection on human beings.

Re:Now, wait a second... (1)

rbarreira (836272) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515469)

Yeah, but the subject line says "Researchers Say Human Brain is Still Evolving".

If he got confused, that may have been the reason :)

Re:Now, wait a second... (1)

superpulpsicle (533373) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515453)

For the human species to really evolve, the 4 major gene types (Caucasian, Asian, Aborigine, Afro-African) must mix as much as possible. The supremme being would technically have all the dominent genes out of each pool.

U.S probably has more interacial offsprings than any other country in the world in the past 300 years. It's no surprise that U.S remains one of the most innovative.

Re:Now, wait a second... (1)

Skewray (896393) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515513)

I've always thought that we should allow drunk driving from midnight to 6 AM. This eliminates a part of the population no one will miss.

Re:Now, wait a second... (3, Funny)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515540)

It's very clear that we're selecting for the ability to produce money, read the correct magazines, and our inability to spot prophylactics in the wild. And drive cars with large integral flat surfaces.

How about evolving an iPod pouch (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515383)

IF evolution is so cracked up grand, where are the evolved responses to the digital age? extra appendages to work the mouse, or carry the ipod?

Re:How about evolving an iPod pouch (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515568)

If a random mutation resulting in an iPod pouch or "extra appendage" to work a mouse would make you more sexually attractive, then you might be on to somthing.

Personally, I'd prefer a third set of teeth [faqfarm.com].

Evidence of evolution in a generation's ability? (1)

Parallax Blue (836836) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515393)

This may be unrelated but perhaps this continuing evolution shows itself in abilities that are picked up by each generation. For example, young adults are much more technologically savvy than older generations. Is this because they have been brought up in a technologically evolving world or is this the brain's evolution at work in being able to grasp new technological concepts? I am by no means an expert on any of this, but it seems this would be a classic case of Nature vs. Nurture.

Race and intelligence? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515394)

This new data lends some weight to the genetic theory for explaining the differences in scores on mental aptitude tests between the various races. Various genes are responsible for differences in brain size and other mental characteristics, so it goes to reason that various isolated populations of humans that were undergoing evolution could have evolved differently.

Since East Asians score highest on mental aptitude tests on average, as the article suggests there are probably other genes that are responsible for that difference. Something that strengthens the math-center of the brain perhaps.

Anyway, very interesting stuff.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_intelligence [wikipedia.org]

Re:Race and intelligence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515471)

I generally don't trust Wikipedia when it comes to controversial topics because I've seen too many instances where editors and other users play their emotions into an article they don't agree with in the quest to make the article 'NPOV'.

i generally like reading directly from the researchers themselves..
http://www.charlesdarwinresearch.org/Race_Evolutio n_Behavior.pdf [charlesdar...search.org]

Gene distribution (4, Insightful)

Fox_1 (128616) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515414)

Dr. Lahn said there may be a dozen or so genes that affect the size of the brain, each making a small difference yet one that can be acted on by natural selection. "It's likely that different populations would have a different make-up of these genes, so it may all come out in the wash," he said. In other words, East Asians and Africans probably have other brain enhancing alleles, not yet discovered, that have spread to high frequency in their populations.

Another geneticist, David Goldstein of Duke University, said the new results were interesting but that "it is a real stretch to argue for example that microcephalin is under selection and that that selection must be related to brain size or cognitive function."

Basically this study shows that the 2 genes they studied are distributed with different frequencies in different populations, but occur more often in these populations now then 60,000 years ago. Anything else is just theory and speculation.

Evolving or devolving? (2, Insightful)

gamer4Life (803857) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515415)

In this society, the people who have the most chance to procreate are the jocks, the Hollywood stars, musicians, etc.. while on the opposite spectrum we have the intelligent nerds.

Does this mean that we will evolve into beings that are better at hand-eye co-ordination, faking emotions, and playing music, while ignoring pure intellect?

Re:Evolving or devolving? (0, Flamebait)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515509)

No. The real procreation is going on at the shallowest ends of the gene pool. It is those on welfare and the generally lazy who are squeezing out pups like there's no tomorrow. Those of us with jobs and high-profile careers don't have the time properly devote to a gaggle of vermin, so we're less likely to produce them (that, and illigitimate kids can get expensive for rich folk once the lawyers get done, for poor people its just another welfare check or EIC credit).

They ought to tax you for every kid you have, and increase the fee with each child. Hell, I'd throw in free voluntary sterilization. It's not like we're going to run out of humans any time soon.

Obviously... (2, Funny)

tyman (831421) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515422)

Of course our brains are evolving. Evolution doesn't just stop at the present. Eventually everyone writing on slashdot will be viewed as "monkeys" and religious fanatics of the future will proclaim that they did not evolve from these neanderthals.

Re:Obviously... (1)

John Hawks (624818) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515561)

Eventually everyone writing on slashdot will be viewed as "monkeys" and religious fanatics of the future will proclaim that they did not evolve from these neanderthals.

My god! I've traveled to the future! How long have I been asleep?!

Depends on how much spaghetti you eat (5, Funny)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515427)

Also, I understand that if you wear an eyepatch [venganza.org], that strengthens the optic nerve on one side of your brain. It is proof of His Noodly Will.

confer? (0, Troll)

Hinkey (746112) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515432)

"... since previous instances of recent genetic change have come to light in genes that defend against disease and confer the ability to digest milk in adulthood." i dont get it

Human evolution has STOPPED! (1, Insightful)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515435)

60,000 years ago, yes we were evolving because people with very low IQ, or diabetes, or asthma, etc. did not live long enough to breed. But today due to advanced medical technology and the security of a orderly society, virtually *everyone* lives and breeds regardless of how unfit they are to survive in the pre-civilization world -- passing down their genes for autism, diabetes, etc. etc.

Re:Human evolution has STOPPED! (2, Informative)

John Hawks (624818) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515500)

Sure, some of the things that used to kill a lot of people don't so much anymore. People even survive and have kids with CF today.

But selection requires only an incremental increase in reproduction. In a big population like ours, this increase can be as small as tenths or hundredths of a percent. This is so small that practically we will never measure it. Yet in a few thousand generations, this tiny reproductive effect will completely transform a population -- even a population of billions.

That's the problem with predicting the future -- what will be important then, we can't observe happening today. But there is plenty of reason to think that things are happening now. From my weblog [johnhawks.net]:

Today, with 6 billion humans, every one-off mutation from the human consensus genome sequence occurs in dozens of people. Many multiple-off mutations occur in some people. In a larger population, selection is more potent, because genetic drift is weaker. This means that the advantageous variants of the next fifty millennia are already appearing in the world today, and may inevitably be selected. The global population is exploring the entire mutational space, many times over, and novel mutations are no longer likely to disappear so rapidly due to genetic drift. Any near variants that confer an advantage are already on the way to fixation. Many of these may lose their advantage once biomedical technology catches up to them. But others will be more subtle, more difficult to market in pharmaceutical form, and these will slowly, steadily increase.
So if you want to have an effect, get out there and reproduce! --John

This isn't stopping evolution... (4, Informative)

Dimensio (311070) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515573)

...this is just changing the selection pressures. Ultimately, advances in medical technology alter the environment in such a way that it is less hostile to the reprodutive success to a given genetic range.

Question (1)

cached (801963) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515436)

Excuse me for asking, but isn't this somewhat obvious? In certain regions, some alleles are much more advantages than in others (having exactly one sickle cell causing allele is extremely advantages in parts of Africa because it causes a very strong immunity to malaria), and it can be seen from the demographics in the article that certain regions tend to have more of a certain allele than others. True, sickle cell is for the entire body... but theres probably something similar that is specifically for the brain.

Stands to reason (4, Interesting)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515455)

Society has changed immensely over the past few thousand years. Evolutionary pressure has changed because the skills required to reproduce successfully are different. Being a good hunter is no longer a core skill. Being able to read and write is.

I wonder to what extent the difference in population growth for various countries will influence this. At the moment, first-world countries have much lower reproductive rates than third-world countries, but if the HIV epidemic continues, that situation could reverse itself.

Re:Stands to reason (1)

Versatile Dinosaur (816128) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515565)

If reading and writing abilities are necessary for reproduction then the rising generations in the US and Australia are doomed. Trendy left-wing P.C. "education" is failing to produce literate students.

Interesting (2, Interesting)

MattW (97290) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515470)

I wonder how long it would take us to devolve via natural selection. Since there is an inverse relationship between education level and child rearing [geographyjim.org], then if one assumes more intelligent people tend to have higher educations and that higher intelligence when breeding contributes to intellectual evolution, then we may well be devolving because stupid people disproportionately reproduce. Of course, we'll probably genetically engineer our own brainpower up before too long, and solve that problem while opening up a whole new can of worms.

We're pissing in our gene pool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515483)

By having human societies based on sets of morals and ethics wherein the most well-adapted and most successful use their intelligence and abilities to protect the less and least well-adapted/successful from coming to harm/dying/being unable to reproduce, each generation further pollutes our gene pool with genes that natural selection would've selected out.
Natural selection is no longer working on the human population, and many deaths, from violence and catastrophe, have little or absolutely no regard for the genetic makeup of the individuals involved.
I know it sounds like something a Nietzsche-reading Nazi would say, but it's also something a Nietzsche-reading biology student would say, and I'm the second one. If it sounds like I'm saying something absolutely horrid when I say that charity and pity are weakening the species year by year by year, perhaps it's because of how attached you are to those morals and ethics? As Friedrich said, pity is practical nihilism... And so, by extension the Christian religion that holds pity as almost above all other virtues, is actively promoting a destructive and downward course, unravelling what nature has spent so long building into us.

Nearly everyone I know has some sort of natural inborn defect... in the wild, that is (in animals, and would be in us) immensely less common.

If this sounds like the type of thinking that leads to unpleasant conclusions, I'm just saying think about it objectively from a scientific standpoint. I've been wrestling with it for a while, because while it seems obviously true to me, it's also obviously at odds with everything that my upbringing and my capacity for empathy tells me about what constitutes good behaviour towards my fellow speciesmembers. It seems like I need to choose between loving individual human beings, or loving the human being as a whole species, because the process that strengthens and protects the species is the one that works by killing as many of the members as it can. :-\

Explains a lot (0, Flamebait)

ylikone (589264) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515490)

It is a given that a marority of humans have undeveloped brains... I mean, just look at the entire republican party!

/sorry

Since when is natural selection called evolution (0, Offtopic)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515514)

I thought Natural selection is the process of genes being passed on from parents to siblings. When there is a benefit, the genes start showing noticble traits. For example, Mendel's work, or any biologist or farmer that breeds for specific traits.

Evolution is the process in which things change into entirely new species. Is the article trying to say that some people's brains will become so complex that they'll no longer be able to breed with the lesser brained people of the world? And eventually these super brained people will form their own species of Homo Superior or create a band of Xmen?

Re:Since when is natural selection called evolutio (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515555)

no, natural selection is the pressures applied to the species that weed out those that are not suited for the environment.

microevolution is the process of small changes appearing within a species
macroevolution is the process of things changing into a different species entirely

Summoning the Spaghetti Monster (1)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515544)

With all this talk of natural selection vs. creationism... one thing I just don't understand is this:

If "God" is said to exist in all life having created it, I would have thought that creationism and natural selection is mutually inclusive, rather than exclusive.
If God is in all life, and I am alive (and therefore part of "God") then I too can create BY MEANS OF evolution. I can create and evolve myself with ideas and actions.

I think the Bible actually explains all this, but for some reason a lot of the religious people missed the point completely.

Evolving? Pah! (1)

MrDiablerie (533142) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515548)

Not if my alcoholic genes have anything to do with it. Then again, it could be natural selection at work. Only the strongest brain cells survive.

Republicans might have good reason to reject this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13515569)

idea of evolution, because they seem to get less intelligent every day!

When I gaze into my fishtank... (4, Interesting)

randumspin (902235) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515572)

Creatures from Another world? The past? The present?

Why yes. Take a look over there. Its the horseshoe crab, one of natures "living fossils". Even if you don't have a saltwater reef aquarium, you may notices roaches in your friends apartment...perhaps a sign that he doesn't clean up well enough or perhaps a sign that life will persist.

Evolution occurs as long as it is beneficial, to the organism in question or to its general environment. The oceans haven't presented enough of a change from way back when for the horseshoe crab and many other species to modify its design. Similarly, cockroaches are pretty good at finding corners and crevices to hide in and scavange, thus they have not needed change their modus operandi or physical design.

Humans are in an entirely different environment. In fact it is said that we are the only species which controls and modifies their environment. As such, it is a natural conclusion that as long as the environment and conditions are variable, evolution will continue to progress...always looking for that perfect design for life that maximizes its ability to persist.

Human evolution is dead (1)

Jason1729 (561790) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515578)

Evolution selects favorable traits and removes unfavorable ones from the gene pool. Modern medicine and science all people who would be weeded out by evolution to live fairly normal lives and remain a part of the gene pool.
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