Humans are moving faster than ever. The reason is not genetic, according to the study


At the mercy of natural selection since the dawn of life, our ancestors adapted, mated, and died, passing on tiny genetic mutations that ultimately made humans what we are today.

But evolution is no longer strictly linked to genes, suggests a new study. Instead, human culture can drive evolution faster than genetic mutations can.

In this design, evolution no longer requires genetic mutations that confer a survival advantage that is transmitted and generalized. Instead, the learned behaviors transmitted by the culture are the “mutations” that provide survival benefits.

According to the researchers, this so-called cultural evolution could now shape the fate of humanity more strongly than natural selection.

“When a virus attacks a species, it usually becomes immune to that virus through genetic evolution,” study co-author Zach Wood, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Biology and Ecology, told Live Science. from the University of Maine.

Such an evolution works slowly, as those who are most sensitive die and only those who survive pass on their genes.

But humans these days generally don’t need to adapt genetically to such threats. Instead, we are adapting by developing vaccines and other medical interventions, which are not the result of the work of one person but rather of many people relying on accumulated “mutations” in cultural knowledge.

By developing vaccines, human culture improves its collective “immune system,” said study co-author Tim Waring, associate professor of socio-ecological systems modeling at the University of Maine.

And sometimes cultural evolution can lead to genetic evolution. “The classic example is lactose tolerance,” Waring told Live Science. “Drinking cow’s milk began as a cultural trait which then led to the [genetic] the evolution of a group of humans. “

In this case, the cultural change preceded the genetic change, not the other way around.

The concept of cultural evolution began with the father of evolution himself, Waring said. Charles Darwin understood that behaviors could evolve and be passed on to offspring just like physical traits, but scientists in his day believed that changes in behavior were inherited. For example, if a mother had a trait that made her inclined to teach her daughter to forage for food, she would pass that inherited trait on to her daughter. In turn, her daughter might have a better chance of surviving, and as a result, this trait would become more common in the population.

Waring and Wood argue in their new study, published June 2 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, that at some point in human history, culture began to wrest evolutionary control from our DNA. And now, they say, cultural change allows us to evolve in ways that biological change alone could not.

Here’s why: The culture is group-based, and members of these groups talk to, learn from and imitate each other. These group behaviors allow people to pass on the adaptations they have learned through cultivation faster than genes can pass on similar survival benefits.

An individual can acquire skills and information from an almost unlimited number of people in a short period of time and, in turn, disseminate this information to many more. And the more people available to learn, the better. Large groups solve problems faster than small groups, and competition between groups stimulates adaptations that might help these groups survive.

As ideas spread, cultures develop new traits.

In contrast, a person inherits only genetic information from both parents and accumulates relatively few random mutations in their eggs or sperm, which takes around 20 years to pass to their small handful of children. It’s just a much slower pace of change.

“This theory has been a long time coming,” said Paul Smaldino, associate professor of cognitive and information science at the University of California at Merced, who was not affiliated with the study. “People have worked for a long time to describe how evolutionary biology interacts with culture.”

It is possible, the researchers suggest, that the emergence of human culture represents a key stage in evolution.

“Their big argument is that culture is the next evolutionary transition state,” Smaldino told Live Science.

Throughout the history of life, the major transitional states have had enormous effects on the rate and direction of evolution. The evolution of cells with DNA was a great transition state, and then when bigger cells with organelles and complex internal structures came along, it was a game-changer again. Another big change was the fusion of cells into plants and animals, as was the evolution of sex, the transition to life on earth and so on.

Each of these events changed the way evolution acted, and now humans could be in the midst of yet another evolutionary transformation. We can still evolve genetically, but that may not have much control over human survival.

“In the very long term, we suggest that humans evolve from individual genetic organisms to cultural groups that function like superorganisms, similar to ant colonies and beehives,” Waring said in a statement.

But genetics rule bee colonies, while the human superorganism will exist in a class of its own. It’s unclear what this superorganism will look like in the distant future, but it will likely take a village to figure it out.

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This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.

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