Do we owe more of our identity to money than our genes?

By Steve Pointing 23/03/2015 2

An intriguing new piece of research by US and European researchers describes how human evolution may be disconnected from our traditional view of Darwinian natural selection.
Life on Earth is subject to evolution due to mutation and natural selection. The latter process describes how individuals with more favourable adaptation to their environment will contribute more to the subsequent generation’s gene pool than those with less favourable traits, hence it is often referred to as “survival of the fittest”.  This ‘fitness’ is manifest in nature where elaborate rituals to demonstrate strength and prowess are commonplace.  In humans too, we have traditionally viewed our evolution as following a similar path – where we adapted to become bipedal and develop complex societies, essentially driven by ‘fitter’ individuals enjoying greater reproductive success. 
The new study, however, suggests that rather than human evolution being driven by natural selection, it has long been the case that humans themselves shape evolution.  A study of human male genetics via the Y chromosome (most studies to date have focused on female inheritance via mitochondrial genes) revealed an acute bottleneck in male genetic diversity some 4,000 – 8,000 years ago.  This was at a time when female genetic diversity was increasing, and so what was the cause?  The research suggests that the timing is crucial – since this period corresponds to the transition from Neolithic hunter-gatherer societies to agrarian societies, a consequence of which was the focus of wealth and power to relatively few individuals and an increase in the reproductive success of these few ‘socially fit’ males. 
Given that wealth accumulation is such a strong societal driver today, it is plausible that this is still a strong driver of human evolution – time will tell!

The original research article appears in the journal Genome Research:

2 Responses to “Do we owe more of our identity to money than our genes?”

  • Thanks for your comment Grant. The hyperlink resolves to the journal website and the article abstract, author list and affiliations, plus a contact for the corresponding author. Interested readers can contact the corresponding author for a reprint. Alternatively I find that many people use Mendeley, Research Gate or similar science networks to request shared access to the full article. I think that in this case the interesting nature of the work justified a blog entry, even if readers have to make that extra effort to obtain the full article. The pay-wall only applies if you wish to purchase a copy for yourself, but I assume Otago carries this journal in their library, if not let me know and I can share my AUT copy via the inter-library loan system. Cheers, Steve.

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