New research suggests that the human brain may still be evolving quite rapidly. Previously, most scientists agreed that human evolution came to a halt 50,000 years ago. But two genes involved in controlling the size of our brains seem to have changed substantially in the last 60,000 years, report University of Chicago geneticists. From the New York Times:
The new finding, reported in today's issue of Science by Bruce T. Lahn of the University of Chicago, and colleagues, could raise controversy because of the genes' role in determining brain size. New versions of the genes, or alleles as geneticists call them, appear to have spread because they enhanced brain function in some way, the report suggests, and they are more common in some populations than others.Link
But several experts strongly criticized this aspect of the finding, saying it was far from clear that the new alleles conferred any cognitive advantage or had spread for that reason. Many genes have more than one role in the body, and the new alleles could have been favored for some other reason, these experts said, such as if they increased resistance to disease.
Even if the new alleles should be shown to improve brain function, that would not necessarily mean that the populations where they are common have any brain-related advantage over those where they are rare.
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.