Humans are constantly evolving, but scientists are thinking about how environmental changes and social behaviors may increase the rate of evolution in the years to come.
Gregory Cochran, an anthropologist the University of Utah, told Scientific Americanthat through his work analyzing over 3 million DNA sequences, “We found very many human genes undergoing selection. 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.”
Culture is one factor: due to increasing globalization, the 7,000 languages that the world speaks today could whittle down to just a hundred. In terms of climate change, darker skin may prove to be an evolutionary advantage – as more melanin protects humans from the dangerous UV rays that penetrate our atmosphere. Even the human physique could evolve in response to the changes of our environment; taller and slimmer bodies may prove better at managing increased heat.
Genetic mutations may also cause physical changes. It could be as subtle as a new eye color – or having the ability to see a hundred times more colors than before.It could also be a more drastic and unique ability, like the human body becoming able to digest new materials.
Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico, told National Geographic News that he thinks Darwinian evolution is speeding up in part due to our interactions with technology:
“The more advanced the technology gets, the greater an effect general intelligence will have on each individual’s economic and social success, because as technology gets more complex, you need more intelligence to master it.”
Natural evolutionary changes take thousands of years, but human-influenced changes will have a broader and more immediate impact. Breakthroughs in technology, which have made it possible to combine human biology with machines, could alter human evolution in ways we haven’t even considered yet: we already have bionic eye implants that could restore sight, and advanced prosthetics that can translate thought into motion.
Thanks to CRISPR, we now have the ability to modify DNA with such precision that we could use it to one day alter DNA and ensure the health of future babies, and maybe even completely eliminate undesirable traits. This however, leaves room for the possibility of limiting humans’ genetic diversity such that a single disease could actually wipe out the entire human race. While it’s certain that advances in technology have altered how we live now, the future remains uncertain – but with that comes near-limitless possibilities.