« McWhorter on Hobbits.... | Gene Expression Front Page | ID Excoriated - Again »
January 06, 2005

Evolving at speed

PLOS has an article up which suggests that an extinct New Zealand eagle, which until the arrival of humans was almost devoid of mammals (3 species of bats), was derived from an ancestral species which was one order of magnitude less massive than it. In other words, in 1-2 million years a small eagle, released from the constraints of mammalian competition, was reshaped by evolution so that its mean mass increased by a factor 10! Just a reminder that all evolution needs to work its magic is heritable variation within a population and reproductive skew influenced by natural selection.

Switching the spotlight to humans, I predict that within 10-20 years a new series of books will emerge that highlight variation in the functional genome of different human populations that parallels the current vogue for works like The Journey of Man and The Seven Daughters of Eve, which popularize the data emerging from the analysis of neutral markers from which one can infer phylogenetic relationships. Even today, Stephen Oppenheimer in The Real Eve, a work mostly preoccupied with the analysis of neutral markers, could not resist theorizing on the possible factors in the genesis of East Asian morphology. Spencer Wells, a freelance scientist who has no institutional affiliation, is now also beginning to wonder about intergroup variation. Interestingly, both these individuals are white males married to females of Asian origin.

In any case, I suspect that the understanding of the functional genome will also start the process of its manipulation and rewriting. Perhaps at that point, we shall be as the gods....

Posted by razib at 04:40 PM