Thursday 28 June 2007
Historians often assume that they need pay no attention to human evolution because the process ground to a halt in the distant past. That assumption is looking less and less secure in light of new findings based on decoding human DNA.
People have continued to evolve since leaving the ancestral homeland in north-eastern Africa some 50,000 years ago, both through the random process known as genetic drift and through natural selection. The genome bears many fingerprints in places where natural selection has recently remoulded the human clay, researchers have found, as people in the various continents adapted to new diseases, climates, diets and, perhaps, behavioural demands.
A striking feature of many of these changes is that they are local. The genes under selective pressure found in one continent-based population or race are mostly different from those that occur in the others. These genes so far make up a small fraction of all human genes.