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Химия Culture Speeds Up Human Evolution
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Exercise 3. Now read the article to check some of your answers in Exercise 1.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Unit 11. Human Evolution

Section 3.

Section 2. Recommended Report and Presentation Topics

Exercise 8. Prepare your own report about adaptations of other species to their habitat and lifestyle.

Exercise 7. Make up a list of the 10 key terms used in the text, then agree with the whole group on the final list. Retell the article using these terms.

  1. Mental disorders.
  2. Brain regions and their functions.
  3. What exactly are dreams?
  4. Dreams and nightmares.
  5. Early bird or night owl?
  6. Coffee – friend or foe? Health effects of coffee.
  7. Decaffeinated coffee.
  8. Tea or coffee?
  9. Eugenics.
  10. Gene therapy.
  11. GM plants.
  12. GM animals.
  13. Engineered animals and natural populations.
  14. Animal conservation.
  15. Ecotourism.

The species does not grow into perfection: the weak again and again get the upper hand of the strong,—their large number, and their greater cunning are the cause of it.

Exercise 1. What is evolution?

  1. Why is Africa considered the birthplace of Homo sapiens?
  2. What is the difference between monocentrism and polycentrism?
  3. What caused bipedalism (bipedal locomotion) and upright posture in humans?
  4. Why do people living in the south tend to have dark skin colour, while people living in the north have fair complexion?
  5. How did human races originate?
  6. What factors can speed up evolution?

Exercise 2. Explain the meaning of the following key terms connected with evolution:

natural selection selective breeding genotype phenotype adaptation mutation heredity species population ecological niche variation norm of reaction divergence convergence parallelism atavism rudiment competition biological progress biological regression

Analysis of common patterns of genetic variation reveals that humans have been evolving faster in recent history

By David Biello

Homo sapiens sapiens has spread across the globe and increased vastly in numbers over the past 50,000 years or so—from an estimated five million in 9000 B.C. to roughly 6.5 billion today. More people means more opportunity for mutations to creep into the basic human genome and new research confirms that in the past 10,000 years a host of changes to everything from digestion to bones has been taking place.

"We found very many human genes undergoing selection," says anthropologist Gregory Cochran of the University of Utah, a member of the team that analyzed the 3.9 million DNA sequences* showing the most variation. "Most are very recent, so much so that the rate of human evolution over the past few thousand years is far greater than it has been over the past few million years." "We believe that this can be explained by an increase in the strength of selection as people became agriculturalists—a major ecological change—and a vast increase in the number of favorable mutations as agriculture led to increased population size," he adds.

Roughly 10,000 years ago, humanity made the transition from living off the land to actively raising crops and domesticated animals. Because this concentrated populations, diseases such as malaria, smallpox and tuberculosis, among others, became more virulent. At the same time, the new agriculturally based diet offered its own challenges—including iron deficiency from lack of meat, cavities and, ultimately, shorter stature due to poor nutrition, says anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, another team member. "Their bodies and teeth shrank. Their brains shrank, too," he adds. "But they started to get new alleles that helped them digest the food more efficiently. New protective alleles allowed a fraction of people to survive the dread illnesses better."

By looking for wide swaths of genetic material that vary little from individual to individual within these sections of great variation, the researchers identified regions that both originated recently and conferred some kind of advantage (because they became common rapidly). For example, the gene known as LCT gave adults the ability to digest milk and G6PD offered some protection against the malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum parasite. "Ten thousand years ago, no one on planet Earth had blue eyes," Hawks notes, because that gene—OCA2—had not yet developed. "We are different from people who lived only 400 generations ago in ways that are very obvious; that you can see with your eyes."

Comparing the amount of genetic differentiation between humans and our closest relatives, chimpanzees, suggests that the pace of change has accelerated to 10 to 100 times the average long-term rate, the researchers write in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Not all populations show the same evolutionary speed. For example, Africans show a slightly lower mutation rate. "Africans haven't had to adapt to a fundamentally new climate," because modern humanity evolved where they live, Cochran says. "Europeans and East Asians, living in environments very different from those of their African ancestors and early adopters of agriculture, were more maladapted, less fitted to their environments."

And this speedy pace of evolution will not slow until every possible beneficial mutation starts to happen—the maximum rate of adaptation. This has already begun to occur in such areas as skin color in which different sets of genes are responsible for the paler shades of Europeans and East Asians, according to the researchers.

The finding raises many questions. Among them: "the medical applications of this kind of knowledge [as well as] exactly what most of the selected changes do and what drove their selection," Cochran says.

But the history of humanity is beginning to be read out from our genes, thanks to a detailed knowledge of the thousands of them that have evolved recently. "We're going to be classifying these by functional categories and looking for matches between genetic changes and historic and archaeological changes in diet, skeletal form, disease and many other things," Hawks says. "We think we will be able to find some of the genetic changes that drove human population growth and migrations—the broad causes of human history." (From Scientific American Online, December 10, 2007)

*This article wrongly characterized the HapMap genotype dataset used for this analysis as "genes" rather than "DNA sequences."

Exercise 4. Are the following statements true or false, according to the text? Explain your answer.

1. Homo Sapiens has demonstrated great biological progress over its history.

2. The rate of human evolution has slowed down due to vast numbers of people living.

3. Transition to agricultural lifestyle and domestication of animals provided a reliable source of food for people.

4. It also helped to improve human health condition.

5. Different populations demonstrate different rates of evolutionary changes.

6. Humans have developed numerous adaptations and thus have achieved the maximum rate of adaptation.

7. Genetic research sheds light on human evolution.

Exercise 5. Are humans still evolving? Discuss the following questions:

a. What changes have taken place since the emergence of Homo Sapiens? Give as many examples as you can.

b. What adaptations to their environment and lifestyle have people developed?


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