In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
Humans 2.0 - "With CRISPR, scientists can change, delete, and replace genes in any animal, including us. Working mostly with mice, researchers have already deployed the tool to correct the genetic errors responsible for sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, and the fundamental defect associated with cystic fibrosis. One group has replaced a mutation that causes cataracts; another has destroyed receptors that H.I.V. uses to infiltrate our immune system." [more inside]
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - "The book delivers on its madly ambitious subtitle by in fact managing to cover key moments in the developmental history of humankind from the emergence of Homo Sapiens to today's developments in genetic engineering." Also btw, check out Harari on the myths we need to survive, re: fact/value distinctions and their interrelationships.
"Humans as Superorganisms: How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes and Other Selfish Entities Shape Our Behavior" by Peter Kramer and Paola Bressan discusses the idea that an individual homo sapiens is only one component of the human superorganism we call a person, focusing on the psychological and psychiatric ramifications thereof. (Paola Bressan previously.)
Recent genetic discoveries are revealing this is a more accurate analogy for human origins than the "branching tree" model. John Hawks discusses the role of connectivity in human evolution in a clip from the new PBS series First Peoples.
This is my vision of life. A conversation with evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins. (Video and transcript)
The CRISPR Revolution [ungated: 1,2,3] - "Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable." [more inside]
The selfish gene is one of the most successful science metaphors ever invented. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
Selfish traits not favoured by evolution, study shows "Evolution does not favour selfish people, according to new research. This challenges a previous theory which suggested it was preferable to put yourself first. Instead, it pays to be co-operative, shown in a model of "the prisoner's dilemma", a scenario of game theory - the study of strategic decision-making. Published in Nature Communications, the team says their work shows that exhibiting only selfish traits would have made us become extinct. "
Are human beings the descendants of chimpanzee/pig hybrids? This radical theory might seem easy to disprove, but "decent arguments against the hybrid origins theory are surprisingly hard to find."
With the possible exception of the Nobel awards, physicists seem to get all the press these days, whether they're doing quantum level work at the LHC, or cosmology via the latest satellite data. Biologists, not so much. It's too bad, because Richard Lenski is running one of the great evolutionary experiments of our time, and it's producing interesting results. [more inside]
The fear of spiders is hardwired into most of humanity, despite the creatures often being beneficial to people. For some reason, it's the odd and scary stories about spiders that stick in our heads.
Larry Gonick is a veteran American cartoonist best known for his delightful comic-book guides to science and history, many of which have previews online. Chief among them is his long-running Cartoon History of the Universe (later The Cartoon History of the Modern World), a sprawling multi-volume opus documenting everything from the Big Bang to the Bush administration. Published over the course of three decades, it takes a truly global view -- its time-traveling Professor thoroughly explores not only familiar topics like Rome and World War II but the oft-neglected stories of Asia and Africa, blending caricature and myth with careful scholarship (cited by fun illustrated bibliographies) and tackling even the most obscure events with intelligence and wit. This savvy satire carried over to Gonick's Zinn-by-way-of-Pogo chronicle The Cartoon History of the United States, along with a bevy of Cartoon Guides to other topics, including Genetics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Physics, Statistics, The Environment, and (yes!) Sex. Gonick has also maintained a few sideprojects, such as a webcomic look at Chinese invention, assorted math comics (previously), the Muse magazine mainstay Kokopelli & Co. (featuring the shenanigans of his "New Muses"), and more. See also these lengthy interview snippets, linked previously. Want more? Amazon links to the complete oeuvre inside! [more inside]
The Price of Altruism - George Price, a (troubled) father of group selection thru his discovery of the eponymous Price Equation, has a rather interesting biography... [more inside]
Our minds boggle at how the wolf could become the chihuahua, the Saint Bernard, the poodle and the Komondor. Artificial selection was likewise responsible for transforming the humble wild mustard plant Brassica oleracea into cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and the breathtaking fractal Romanesco, all in the span of a few centuries. [more inside]
New Adventures in Recent Evolution - In the last few years, biologists peering into the human genome have found evidence of recent natural selection. cf. Social Darwinism: 21st century edition [previously] (via ip) [more inside]
Tibetans May Be Fastest Evolutionary Adapters Ever. "A group of scientists in China, Denmark and the U.S. recently documented the fastest genetic change observed in humans. According to their findings, Tibetan adaption to high altitude might have taken just 3,000 years. That's a flash, in terms of evolutionary time, but it's one that's in dispute."
The Village Dog Project is an ongoing research project to document genetic diversity in pariah dogs. These dogs haven't been subject to breed pressure, and may be able to help researchers learn more about the transition from wolf to dog. (via)
How We Evolve: "A growing number of scientists argue that human culture itself has become the foremost agent of biological change, making us — for the past 10,000 years or so — the inadvertent architects of our own future selves." [more inside]
A new round of genetic tests has confirmed it: The 'big lizards' of our childhood fantasies were more likely 'big birds.' In fact, they probably even had feathers, and looked more like this than this. Mind blowing, I know, but I guess this demonstrates that, despite what some may think, science really doesn't have a problem admitting that it got something wrong when new evidence comes to light.
Any admixture would have to be driven by male Neanderthals. Two years ago we discussed morphological evidence of nontrivial interbreeding. Since then Neanderthal DNA has been examined for genetic support for this model of human evolution, largely contradicting the belief in Neanderthal contribution to modern humanity. Indeed any contribution from the Neanderthal gene pool to the evolution of modern humans might be very rare and indeed it appears that the best candidate gene thus (MC1R) far likely was a result of convergent evolution. [more inside]
'Race' graphically illustrated - "most Europeans" vs. Ashkenazim (previously; see also IQ & Gladwell, viz. ;) [more inside]
Humans are evolving more rapidly than in the distant past, according to a new study published in PNAS. "The massive growth of human populations has led to far more genetic mutations, and every mutation that is advantageous to people has a chance of being selected and driven toward fixation. We are more different genetically from people living 5,000 years ago than they were different from Neanderthals", says lead author John Hawks. [more inside]
"Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution." Despite Theodosius Dobzhansky's succint description of natural selection at the core of biological research since Darwin's fateful trip to the Galapagos, evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch respectfully dissents, asking "whether natural selection is a necessary or sufficient force to explain" the complexity of multicellular organisms we see today, where mutation, recombination and genetic drift are often overlooked, but critical factors in evolutionary theory and understanding.
Highly Sensitive People: if you prick us, do we not bleed? and burst into tears? and run from the room and fling ourselves down on the bed?
Are you a Highly Sensitive Person? This trait ... is inherited by 15 to 20% of the population, and ... seems to be present in all higher animals. Being an HSP means your nervous system is more sensitive to subtleties. Your sight, hearing, and sense of smell are not necessarily keener .... But your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. Being an HSP also means, necessarily, that you are more easily overstimulated, stressed out, overwhelmed. This trait ... has been mislabeled as shyness (not an inherited trait), introversion (30% of HSPs are actually extraverts), inhibitedness, fearfulness, and the like. HSPs can be these, but none of these are the fundamental trait they have inherited ...
yahoo group | latest research (fascinating!) | newsletter | wikipedia | blog | via
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It's genital evolution day! Penis evolution. For my money, evolution reached it's zenith with the Argentine Lake Duck. Plenty more MeFi penis related shenanigans here , including the penis museum.
Neanderthal Lovin’! New research from evolutionary scientist Bruce Lahn suggests that humans and the now extinct Neanderthal species mixed, and humans snatched up a valuable brain gene in the process. (The gene, MCPH1, and Lahn, discussed last year on MeFi) This comes on the tails of yet another new study providing morphological evidence that there was nontrivial interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals in Eurasia, despite the fact that Neanderthals may have been genetically closer to chimps than humans. Contrary to popular imagination, though, the Neanderthal species had bigger brains and sophisticated intellects, at least roughly on par with that of human beings. The gene regulates brain size during development, but its exact utility to humans is still unknown (and controversial). The origin of this gene and the question of Neanderthal mixing will soon be answered more definitively by the, just launched, 2 year project to map the Neanderthal genome, headed by Svante Pääbo (profiled in recent Smithsonian and Wired articles). Pääbo calls Lahn’s study "the most compelling case to date for a genetic contribution of Neandertals to modern humans."
Evolutionary theorist Dr Curry predicts humanity will "split in two". At the very least this should provide material for playground insults. At the top end, as Dr Curry says, we could be living in Wells' The Time Machine. Only without the time machine, sadly.
Study finds that 40% of Ashkenazi Jews come from four Jewish mothers. Previously discussed on Metafilter: the peculiar genetics of Ashkenazi Jews and their impressive intellect.
Genes Reveal Recent Human Brain Evolution. Two important new papers in the journal Science (available here) from the evolutionary geneticist and rising star, Bruce T. Lahn (see this recent profile from The Scientist), are potentially the tips of some very large icebergs. The papers document how two genes related to brain properties that underwent strong selection during the course of hominid evolution, have continued undergoing strong selection since the emergence of anatomically modern man. The papers wonderfully illustrate how biological evolution is an ongoing process as well as the artificial distinction between “micro” and “macro” evolution, and promise to be controversial for two reasons: First, the brain genes underwent the strongest selection during two periods of cultural and technological efflorescence (roughly 37,000 and 5,800 years ago). Second, the genes are distributed very differently in modern human population groups, existing at very high frequencies in some groups and being very rare in others, ensuring that the modern function of these genes will be a source of more research and much impassioned debate. More observations from anthropologist John Hawks.
A more efficient microbe genome. A more efficient sorting algorithm. A more efficient keyboard layout.
The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence (PDF). A fascinating new theory from physicist turned renegade evolutionary theorist, Gregory Cochran (see this Atlantic Monthly cover story on Cochran's already path-breaking germ theory of disease), and genetic anthropologist Henry Harpending, proposes that a unique evolutionary history, and a number of improbably clustered neurologically related genetic diseases among Ashkenazi Jews could help explain their incredible intelligence test scores and extraordinary intellectual achievements (e.g. Ashkenazi Jews are 3% of the American population but win 27% of the Nobel Prizes). The paper is set for publication in the Journal of Biosocial Science, and is already getting major press in the New York Times and The Economist. Does the recent Harvard fracas over Larry Summers herald a new "arms race" in academic debate about genetics, man and society for the 21st century? [compelling post by Jason]
The Dawkins FAQ. Interesting Q&A session about evolution, biology, genes, etc with an expert. Dawkins claims no final answer on the "gay gene" or a Darwinian explanation of homosexuality.
Author challenges Darwin's theory of "sexual selection." To Darwin, mutations that don't enhance survival, like peacocks' tails, must be aids to attracting mates to pass on genes. Homosexuality, therefore, is to Darwin and the Christian-right both an unnatural aberration. But with ever growing evidence of homsexual behavior in animals, from bonobos to penguins, isn't it time that Darwin's theory get replaced?
Eek eek! - Jennings Bryan spins in his grave: "Chimpanzees are so closely related to humans that they should properly be considered as members of the human family, according to new genetic research." [BBC] In the early 1900's, Jennings Bryan offered $100 in cash to anyone who signed an affidavit declaring that he personally was descended from an ape.
'If you want to know what Utopia is like, just look around - this is it,' the article asks is human evolution over? Two interesting "facts?" "points?" 1) the blending of our genes which will soon produce a uniformly brown-skinned population. Apart from that, there will be little change in the species. 2) Just consider Aids, and then look at chimpanzees,' says Jones. 'You find they all carry a version of HIV but are unaffected by it. Something very similar could soon happen to humans. In a thousand years... Link via www.cursor.org.
I come from a long line of inbreeders. No more laughing at them there bills from the hills! It seems all us white folk are related to only 50 frisky ancestors!
Why the Future Doesn't Need Us is the cover story in this month's 'Wired'. It was written by Bill Joy, chief scientist at Sun. In it he makes a very convincing case for strict regulation of genetics, nanotech, and robotics, given that any of these could cause the extinction of the human species in the next 30 years. What do you think?