7 Strange And Surprising Ways That Humans Have Recently Evolved

When we learn about evolution in school, it feels old and slow.( Charles Darwin’s impressive beard later in life probably doesn’t help here .)

But evolution is very much still happening today and it’s happening to us.

Right here, right now.

It’s too soon to say what humen will look like a few thousand years from now, but here are some of the most recent quirks and even superpowers we’veacquired thanks to the power of selection.

1. Drinking milk as adults

Drinkingmilk is one of the defining traits of mammals, but humen are the only species on Ground to digest it after infancy, though even now, more than7 5 %~ ATAGENDof the world’s population is still lactose intolerant.

After weaning, all other mammals, and most humans, discontinue rendering lactase, the enzyme necessary to break down lactose, milk sugar.

But a mutation that appearedon the plains of Hungaryabout 7,500 years ago allowed some humen to digest milk into adulthood. We likely started with cheese cheddar and feta contain less lactose than fresh milk and softer cheeses, and Parmesan contains almost no lactose.

Thismay seem nutritionally inconsequential( though delicious) now, but the ability to digest unbelievably calorie-dense dairy products was incrediblyuseful for humans surviving the cold wintertimes of Europe.

2. Disease resistance

Rod-shaped Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteriaCDC

Evolution is about the survival of the fittest and a big part of evolutionary fitness is not dying from a disease before you’ve had children. So it stimulates sense that evolution would be giving us a boost against some common diseases.

The most-studied illnes we’ve been outrunning lately is malaria. If you’ve taken an introductory biology course lately, you are able recollect a strange connection withsickle-cell anemia. That’s because there’s a specific gene that, if you have one copy, will protect your red blood cell from intrusion by the malaria parasite but two copies will distort red blood cell and block their passageway through blood vessels.

But that isn’t the only trick that’s evolved in the face of malaria. There are also more than a hundred somewhat different genes that cause a shortage of a protein to participate in breaking down red blood cells. That makes it harder for the malaria parasite to sneak into a red blood cell.Another form of mutation that’s been spreading lately blocks malaria parasites from hanging out in the placenta.

And it’s not just malaria evolution has helped spread adaptations that protect against leprosy, tuberculosis, and cholera in certain populations as well. Some scientists have suggested that living in cities helps this process along.

3. Blue eyes

Blue eyes are another recent-evolved traitand scientists have determined it came from a mutant in a single ancestor 6,000 -1 0,000 years ago.

Themutation affected the OCA2 gene, which codes the protein necessary for producing melanin, which gives our scalp, hair and eyes their colouring. This essentially “switched off” the ability to have brown eyes by limiting the melanin produced in the iris, and “diluting” the eye color from brown to blue.

Having lighter eyes didn’t devote anyone a specific survival advantage, but because the gene for blue eyes operates similarly to a recessive trait( though it’s a little more complicated ), blue-eyed parents could betterguarantee that their children were, in fact, their own.

4. High-altitude exhaling

Tibetans live in one of the least hospitable, and thereforeone of the lastpopulatedareason the planet: the Himalayan mountains. And their ability to handle the low-oxygen levelsup there is not due to mere hardiness it’s coded into their genes.

One study compared indigenous Tibetans, who live at altitudes above 10,000 feet inthe Himalayan highlands, withHan Chinese from Beijing, who are closely related genetically but live right around sea level elevation.

REUTERS/ Damir Sagolj

The researchers found that the Tibetans’blood was genetically predisposed to produce more of the oxygen-transporting hemoglobin protein.Still up for debate is when this mutation resulted, but some geneticists have estimated it happening as recently as 3,000 years ago( though unsurprisingly, archaeologistspush that date much further back ).

5. Missing wisdom teeth

It’s not only oral surgeons who are removing wisdom teeth( third molars) from human mouths evolution is playing a part too.

On our evolutionary road to becoming humans, our big brains crowded our skulls and narrowed our jaws, making it difficult for the third row of molars to emerge from the gums.

And afterwe began cooking our food and developed agriculturethousands of years ago, our diet became softer. This switch to soft grains and starches involved less strenuous chewing than our past hunter-gathererdiet. This entailed our jaw muscles didn’t grow as strong as they used to, maintaining the wisdom teeth beneath the gumsincreasingthe risk of painful and deadly infection.

A few thousand years ago, a mutation popped up that prevented wisdom teeth from growing at all. Now one in four people are missing at least one wisdom tooth.Thepeople who are most likely to be missing at least one wisdom tooth are the Inuit of the northernmost regions of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska.

6. Alcohol flush reaction

Alcohol flush reaction, also known as the “Asian incandescence, ” is not only a real thing, it’s also a recently evolved trait that may protect East Asian populations froma deadlycancer.

In about 36% of East Asians( Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans ), drinking alcohol causes facial flushing and nausea. This is due to a inadequacy in the enzyme known asALDH2.

While this may cause some social challenges amidst peers of more heavy-drinkingancestries, it’s an important indicator of a serious health risk.People with an ALDH2 deficiency are also at greater hazard of developingesophageal cancer from drinking alcohol.

Curiously, scientists believe this mutation passed after the development of agriculture which built producing alcohol possible.

PJ Brooks et al ./ Wikimedia( CC BY 2.5 )

7. Shrinking brains

We believe fairly highly of our brains, but it turns out they’ve actually been shrinking for more than 20, 000 years. The total change adds up to a piece the size of a tennis ball in an adult male. But scientists don’t think that means we’re getting dumber.

One theory is that each of us relies more on the structure of society to help us get by, so we don’t require as much brain space as individuals. But as we’ve domesticated animals like cats and dogs, we’ve watched their brains shrink too. That means somescientists believe smaller brains may actually mark most peaceful animals.

PBS/ YouTube

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