Is evolution still ongoing?

  1. My knowledge of biology is very limited and I know just the basics, so please enlighten me.

    This evolution phenomenon has started way way back in the past and as a result, today we see varieties of species including humans. My question is: are WE (present species) still being evolved and developed into new forms and species? Has this process reached its peak yet and levelled off or no it never stops? I tend to think, say 1 million years from now, WE are not going to be as much different and diverse as we were 1 million years ago. Is evolution a trend which could be plotted for future times, predicting what WE will look like or turn into.

    There are computer softwares which illustrate how a teenage will look like when he/she is 40 or 50. Is there such predictions in evolutionary biology to predict what WE will look like/turn into in for example 50,000 years.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. One of the big weaknesses of modern biology is the inability to use it to predict things like that. Evolution is a theory with great explanatory power but rather limited predictive power. However, for simple organisms, in simple environments it is possible to accurately predict evolutionary trends, so there is some hope that the predictive power of evolutionary theory will improve significantly in the near future.
     
  4. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    Evolution still works, although - in the case of humans - it lacks at the moment its driving force.

    You don't have to be fit to survive and procreate, you have to be very, very unfit to loose your chance. And even if you are very unfit, medicine will do everything it can to let you survive and make some kids, that will be even more unfit than you are. So in the case of human race there is most likely no evolution at the moment.
     
  5. If I recall correctly, there is one prion which about 10% of the population is immune to because they lack a certain protein which doesn't have a function. Don't take my word for it, but use it more as a thought device.
     
  6. Bacteria have been evolving VERY rapidly to counter our antibiotics. This is a serious health concern. It is also classic natural selection in a VERY complex environment -- our bodies(although with simple organisms). This should have been very predictable.
     
  7. You are right, it is a complicated environment. I am not an expert in the literature, but I am not aware of any study where the development and propagation of anti-biotic resistance in a pathogen population was quantitatively and accurately predicted outside of laboratory conditions.
     
  8. There is no "peak" in evolution, it is an ongoing process though it does go through "plateaus" when the species' environmental conditions and habits do not change for long peroids of time.

    I believe you are correct that we will become less diverse in the future since our merging of cultures and travel will most likely continue to increase. Segregation brings out diversity.
    Although 1 million years is a long time and we may not be very similar at all to the way we look today.

    Today we are still working on predicting individual chemical pathways on a cellular and tissue level, but in the future our knowledge may be complete enough to have reliable models to make such predictions.

    Unless, of course, in the future we start custom building our babies. :)
     
  9. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    It is also important to understand that evolution is a process that takes generations to manifest. If you walked past an actual Neanderthal on the street one day, dressed in modern clothes and wearing a baseball cap, you may not even notice him. And they lived on the order of 50,000-100,000 years ago.
     
  10. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    Not entirely true. For about the last century, the impoverished are most likely produce the most offspring.
     
  11. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    Good point, missed that. In the past cenrturies it was more or less the opposite - those rich had more children. Not necesarilly legal ones ;)
     
  12. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    It has often made me wonder what, if any, genetic selection is occurring. Of course we can to an extent correlate race to poverty.
     
  13. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    To some extent no elimination, no selection. But this anticonception thing skewes statistic of reproduction.
     
  14. lisab

    Staff: Mentor

    If the poor/uneducated are having more children than the rich (which appears to be the case in many places), there IS selection - the poor/uneducated are favored over the rich/educated.
     
  15. Is there a poverty gene or an education gene?

    Just because one demographic reproduces more than another does not imply evolution is occuring. There must be a genetic trait defining that demographic for evolution to occur.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2008
  16. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    I don't think it is that simple. Consider for example alcoholism, which is generally claimed to be genetic. In the US, how much of the poverty rate can be attributed to acoholism or addiction? This is not to say that all poor people are alcoholics and addicts, but are people with a strong genetic predisposition to alcoholism and addiction more likely to be impoverished and produce more offspring than they might otherwise?

    Are there genetic traits that tend to give people an advantage in the pursuit of wealth; such as good looks, and health?

    Are you more likely to receive a college education or to be successful beyond poverty, based on intelligence? Is intelligence partly a function of genetics?
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2008
  17. I actually don't have an opinion on the answer to the question "is there a 'poverty' or 'education' gene". I tend to think, like you, that it is not a simple question, and I have never been convinced that such "nature v nurture" questions are ever clearly answered.

    My point is that unless there is a genetic component to poverty then the fact that poor people reproduce more is not a driving force in human biological evolution. The weaker the genetic component, the less relevant it is for evolution.
     
  18. Moonbear

    Moonbear 12,265
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    While this may get more into social sciences than biology, it seems to me there is a trend more toward blending of the races more so than the past isolation of people that led to formation of distinct races. It's a fairly modern concept that a man from the US who is of mixed African and European ancestry could meet an Asian woman and have a child who grows up and marries someone of Middle Eastern ancestry. It takes only a few generations to blend all the continents again.

    As to the original question, yes, evolution is always ongoing. And as others have pointed out, there isn't really a predictive aspect to the theory, it's mostly evaluating changes that have already occurred in hindsight to understand how species have changed.
     
  19. As long as some individuals - for whatever reason - have more offspring (who grow to breed) than others, and some children die before breeding, evolution is occuring.

    People are still dying for various reasons, and if they die before they breed, or before they breed as much as they might've, they're being selected against. Just because we have various methods of extending life beyond the limits other animals face, does not mean we are subverting evolution. Human society itself is an evolutionary benefit of our species, we have protection from other animals, medicine, surgery, family members who'll care for us. These are all evolutionary adaptations that help us survive.

    So yes, evolution is still ongoing. Especially now, as people of different populations who in the past were isolated by geography are mixing at increasing rates, we'll see all sorts of new combinations of gene traits that were very unlikely hundreds of years ago, with more chances for mixes of various traits to produce even more fit humans.
     
  20. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    First of all - how do we define evolution?

    Because what is happening to the human population is not necesarilly evolution in terms of "producing better fit individuals". They are somewhere in the population. Are there more of them? Does their number grow, together with the population? Or does their number goes down, as their genes are mixed with genes of those less fit? What wins - sheer population growth, or lack of selection?

    What is happening is rather that the population becomes more and more diverse, gaussian tails become longer and longer in all directions, mean value (whatever it means) shifts because of the processes that have been signalled earlier. But is it still evolution in Darwin's terms?

    So, if we define evolution as shifting of the mean (and that's not a completely absurd thing, as evolution doesn't touch single individuals, but whole populations), it is still ongoing. If we define it as a production of better fit, it doesn't. At least IMHO.
     
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