Despite advances, humans still evolving

U. SHEFFIELD (UK) — Humans continue to evolve and significant natural and sexual selection is still taking place in our species in the modern world, new research shows. 

Despite advancements in medicine and technology, as well as an increased prevalence of monogamy, research reveals humans are continuing to evolve just like other species.

Scientists in an international collaboration, which includes the University of Sheffield, analyzed church records of about 6,000 Finnish people born between 1760-1849 to determine whether the demographic, cultural, and technological changes of the agricultural revolution affected natural and sexual selection in our species.

Project leader Virpi Lummaa, of the department of animal and plant sciences, says: “We have shown advances have not challenged the fact that our species is still evolving, just like all the other species ‘in the wild’.

“It is a common misunderstanding that evolution took place a long time ago, and that to understand ourselves we must look back to the hunter-gatherer days of humans.”

Lummaa adds: “We have shown significant selection has been taking place in very recent populations, and likely still occurs, so humans continue to be affected by both natural and sexual selection. Although the specific pressures, the factors making some individuals able to survive better, or have better success at finding partners and produce more kids, have changed across time and differ in different populations.”

As for most animal species, the authors found that men and women are not equal concerning Darwinian selection. Their findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Principal investigator Alexandre Courtiol, of the Wissenschftskolleg zu Berlin, adds: “Characteristics increasing the mating success of men are likely to evolve faster than those increasing the mating success of women. This is because mating with more partners was shown to increase reproductive success more in men than in women.

“Surprisingly, however, selection affected wealthy and poor people in the society to the same extent.”

The experts needed detailed information on large numbers of study subjects to be able to study selection over the entire life cycle of individuals: survival to adulthood, mate access, mating success, and fertility per mate.

Genealogy is very popular in Finland and the country has some of the best available data for such research thanks to detailed church records of births, deaths, marriages, and wealth status, which were kept for tax purposes. Movement in the country was also very limited until the 20th century.

“Studying evolution requires large sample sizes with individual-based data covering the entire lifespan of each born person,” says Lummaa.

“We need unbiased datasets that report the life events for everyone born. Because natural and sexual selection acts differently on different classes of individuals and across the life cycle, we needed to study selection with respect to these characteristics in order to understand how our species evolves.”

The project was funded by the European Research Council and Findland’s Kone Foundation and was carried out with Wissenschftskolleg zu Berlin and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, University of Turku in Finland, University of Helsinki in Finland, and the Population Research Institute in Finland.

More news from the University of Sheffield: www.shef.ac.uk/mediacentre/

chat32 Comments


  1. DS

    In the US, people are evolving back to apes.

  2. Doug Ludemann

    @DS – In the US we call them Republicans.

  3. SBrody

    Remember too, that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. That is, sociocultural development is likewise an ongoing dynamic process, and (non-biological) human development follows the footsteps of cultural evolution.

  4. Mark

    No, in the US some are evolving into parasites on the trest of society, others are evolving into beasts of burden that have to pay for the other’s “Rights” to wellfare.

  5. Hans

    @DS, the more we watch Twilight movies and Kim Kardashian’s shows, the faster we are evolving back to apes

  6. DRD

    Let me see if I can make this simple enough that even evolutionists will understand:
    A. Complex systems require intelligent design.
    B. Computers, automobiles, skyscrapers, trees, cats, dogs, humans are complex systems.
    C. Therefore, Computers, automobiles, skyscrapers, trees, cats, dogs, humans are intelligently designed.

  7. Mark

    @SBrody you can shovel the BS. Non-biological human development leads cultural evolution. Develop the best guns and rule the world. Grow the most food and rule the world. LOL the US feeds 100 nations. Screw with America in WW III most of Africa starve. The only reason the US doesn’t make its own ethinal is too keep the world from starving to death. The point is $5.00 a gallon gasoline sounds about the breaking point for Africa to starve.

  8. Gnusto

    I guess that means all the lefties sucking up all the government freebies and living off the hard work of others are digressing towards leeches.

    “@DS – In the US we call them Republicans.”

  9. ScubaSteve


    Well, seeing as how A is false. I don’t see the reason to believe B or C either.

    Simple solutions for the simple-minded, I guess.

  10. Mark

    @DRD Let me make it even simpler for you, intelligent design would not preclude evolution. If you believe that God is omni present – existsing ever place and time is meaningless to him. Who are we to way how long a “Day” is to God. Who are we to say how he created everything or what his finished products looks like. No, there is nothing to make the two concepts strictly independant. God would be stupid to create man that cannot adapt to the changes that he knows will happen before he created the world. So would you say God is stupid? I for one would not.

  11. Alsan

    @DRD… If intelligent design is true, how do you explain the existence of someone as moronic as you?

  12. Rey

    @Doug Ludemann
    Interestingly enough, the individuals you imply are regressing back into apes (republicans) are the ones supporting those who are receiving the most handouts in the U.S. (democrats). In all reality, one could argue that the individuals receiving handouts are less capable of surviving in their environment, and as a result depend upon those who are actually more capable. If anyone is “evolving back into apes,” (doesn’t evolution imply forward motion?) wouldn’t it be those who cannot survive without the assistance of others?

  13. dave

    There has been no evolution. We are still human and always will be. Our DNA is deteriorating with hundreds of mutations every generation. There is no evidence of any change in our species. Look at all the “living fossils” today- just like they were millions of years ago. The fossil record does not support this article at all. It is a lie to provide funds for studying the lie. What a waste!

  14. jerzy

    Assumption that evolution is “done” with us would be worth of Nearderthals. Homo sapiens are relatively new to Earth’s biosfera. Studies done withinn just one nation doesn’t serve much of a justice either. After post African BIG SPLIT we are merging into larger superspieces and thats before entering space era and colonisation of a new worlds which will cause another BIG SPLIT into subspieces able to adopt to diferent conditions. Genetical manipulations will take us beyond natural evolvment allowing faster and controlled adaptation. Given that we won’t extinct ourselves before it all hapens we have milions of years to get transformed into something beyond human. We are still in the cradle.

  15. Mark

    @ScubaSteve How ignorant. If you believe in evolution and that man is not alone in the universe, you must therefore believe in a surpreme being. Man is on the top of an evolutionary pyrimid on the Earth. someplace on Earth is the most evolved man. In a universal evolutionary pyrimid, there must be a species at the to and at the top of that species there must be a most evolved, aka GOD.

  16. Q-Hack

    Seeing how, under the evolutionary tree, humans never left the catagory of ‘apes’, I take offense at you calling me a Republican.

  17. DRD

    @ScubaSteve Perhaps I should have said A. Irreducibly complex systems are intelligently designed.

  18. JWT

    DRD – “A. Irreducibly complex systems are intelligently designed.” You are still making an unwarranted, frankly disproven claim that any complex systems in our body are irreducible.

  19. 667

    @ DRD I don’t understand why we have to keep debating each over evolution/intelligent design there is nothing either side can say to convince the other to change their mind, and calling each other stupid for believing what we do is pointless unless you really depend on strangers opinions in order to maintain your belief, in which case you probably haven’t researched your position very well and are just a sheep following the flock. I am in the evolution camp and I am satisfied with the decline of religion all by itself. Praise be to science and the people who continue to move our understanding forward.

  20. Alex

    Ja captain obvious humans and all living things evolve . Life changes with time . Lubermann , liberals and republicans are insane in their own special way . Most people are . No need to point fingers.

  21. MB

    @DRD, if you are going to argue in favor of Intelligent Design, at least get it right. Trees, cats, dogs, and humans are not Irreducibly Complex according to the hypothesis of ID. There are a lot of components that can be removed, and they still function as trees, cats, dogs, and humans. The tail is a good example (except for trees obviously) remove it, and the dog/cat/human still functions (humans begin to form tails as embryos–this was well known before Darwin came along) For the system to be IC, no component can be removed and the function of the system retained.

    ID fails for many reasons. IC assumes that the function of a component never changes. The evolution of the ear is a good example of functions changing over time. The blood clotting mechanism is full of them (and of of Behe’s favorite “IC” systems). ID fails when almost-the-same systems are found in nature. The bombardier beetle is famous because of it’s “IC” system that squirts hydrochloric acid (IIFC it is hydrochloric). However, it’s close relative is only able to secrete acid. Exactly what you’d expect to find based on evolution, but highly unlikely according to ID.

    A better human-created analogy is a cement bridge… liquid concrete won’t float in the air to cure and form a bridge, so a concrete bridge is similar to an IC system (although not by the exact definition of IC). Of course, we all know that scaffolding and forms were used to hold the wet concrete while it dried; then the scaffolding and forms were later removed. The evolution of so-called IC systems is similar. All the extra stuff that was required along the way by natural processes was removed at some point. Evolutionary theory predicts evidence of that “extra stuff” may be found in the fossil record; or hasn’t been removed yet. We find examples of both which disproves ID.

    One last thing, statements B and C fail because some of those systems are capable of self-reproduction with modification. Systems that are not capable of self-reproduction do require another form to manufacture them.

  22. MB

    @Mark, Yes, there will always be something considered the “top” or the “best” or the “most”. But just because something out there is “the best,” doesn’t prove there is a god.

  23. DRD

    @MB So by your argument, it’s okay to believe that computers, automobiles and skyscrapers just accidentally came into existence without any intelligent thought like trees, cats, dogs and humans. Right?

  24. MB

    @DRD, you might have missed the sentence, “Systems that are not capable of self-reproduction do require another form to manufacture them.”

    However, there are natural processes that “manufacture” many natural things. None if which require intelligence behind them.

  25. DRD

    @MB Even the word “manufacture” implies some sort of design.

  26. MB

    @DND, Negative. That’s why I put it in quotes when referring to what natural
    processes do. For example: pretty much any element heavier then Lithium was “manufactured” in a star. No intelligence drives the natural process of nuclear fusion inside a star. Is that your best arguement, nit-picking a semantics issue?

  27. DRD

    @MB Going from lithium to man is a huge stretch and to believe that it happened by a series of accidents requires a huge amount of faith in “Science.” I prefer to put my faith elsewhere.

    In any case, for this article to call the changes they saw “evolution” is wrong. They saw nothing more than the normal adaptability that God gave all life.

    Have you been to the website of the Institute for Creation Research? They and a couple of other websites are much better at answering these things than I am. They have PhD scientists to help them. Give them a try.

  28. MB

    @DRD, I’ve ready plenty of creationist literature–in fact, I read a lot of it first, before I ever made an effort to understand evolution, cosmology and the like. Typically, they will say, “We don’t know, so that proves God did it”. A more honest answer is simply, “We don’t know”.

    Yes, there are a number of PhD’s who claim to present scientific evidence of creationism. They really put their religion ahead of their science. They already know the answer, and are trying to back-fill details. They ignore, and often suppress, any data that counters their claim. Shameful for someone so closely aligned with the Ten Commandments to be so willing to bear false witness. They are the ones who will use words like “chance” or “accident” to describe the process of evolution, and tell you it’s an act of faith to believe in it.

    Compare that to the real scientific process. Scientists will try to predict the outcome of an experiment, because it makes for stronger science. It isn’t that the “know the answer” already, it’s that they think they know the answer, and if the experiment confirms it, then the answer was *probably* right. Then when another scientist is able to repeat the experiment, then a skeptic has been convinced–and without invoking faith. No scientist competent in any evolutionary field will describe the process as “chance”. They will use words like “undirected”.

    On the other hand, if the data doesn’t work, then they toss out or modify the hypothesis. You might argue, “what about cold fusion and arsenic-based life.” Well, it took a little time, but ultimately the problems with those hypothesis were uncovered.

    What you called “normal adaptability” can also be called “micro-evolution”. In only a handful of generations, you would only expect to see micro-evolution, and that’s what they saw. I’m assuming you don’t believe in macro-evolution. Here’s the problem, there is no distinct line between micro and macro evolution. We can categorize the changes as large and small, but ultimately, placement of the dividing line is somewhat arbitrary. Its similar to Pluto loosing it’s planet status. Nothing about Pluto changed, other than how we categorized it. Now, speciation might be considered the dividing line between micro and macro evolution, but even that has a fuzzy border. But it is clear that speciation occurs. It can occur in an afternoon with certain bacteria. The fossil record shows countless examples.

    But don’t just believe me, look it up. Research it. Understand it. If you want to know more about evolution, read Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne. It’s a very readable book with lots of data to back it up. Enjoy!

  29. DRD

    @MB I don’t know what creationist literature you have been reading.
    It doesn’t appear to be the same that I read. Many creationist
    answers for things fit the evidence better than the evolutionist view.
    Evolution is “assumed” so to the evolutionist the evidence fits, but
    only if they ignore the “inconvenient” facts. How anyone can say
    something as wonderful as earth and the life here is a huge accidental
    event is beyond me. Most accidents don’t come out this way.

  30. MB

    @DRD, your continued use of words like “accident” and “chance” to describe evolution leads me to beleive that you truely don’t understand it. “Chance” etc, is the foundation of a straw-man arguement.

    There are probably thirty different scientific fields relating to evolution. Morphology, embryology, genetics, paleontology, molecular biology. Each of those fields simultaneously stand on their own, and reinforce the conclusions of the other. If some god did create everything, he went to extreme lengths to make it look like he never had a hand in it.

    I agree there is a lot of beauty here on Earth. There is also a lot of death and destruction. 99% of all species have gone extinct. Many individual creates die excruciating deaths. If you read the Bible, God killed tens of millions of people, so maybe all that destruction isn’t surprising. Let’s say for a moment that that story is true… Why do people call him a loving God?. The devil only killed seven!

  31. Jay

    You apes are crazy!

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