By Brandon Keim
December 10, 2007
Look out, future, because here we come: scientists say the speed of human evolution increased rapidly during the last 40,000 years -- and it's only going to get faster.
The findings, published today by a team of U.S. anthropologists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, overturn the theory that modern life's relative ease has slowed or even stopped human adaptation. Selective pressures are still at work; they just happen to be different than those faced by our distant ancestors.
"We're more different from people 5,000 years ago than they were from Neanderthals," said study co-author and University of Utah anthropologist Henry Harpending.
In the study, researchers analzyed genomes from 270 people belonging to four disparate ethnic groups: Han Chinese, Africa's Yoruba tribe, Japanese and Utah Mormons. By comparing areas of difference and similarity, they determined that about seven percent of the genome has undergone significant change since the end of the last Ice Age.
If human beings had always evolved at such a rapid clip, said the researchers, genetic differences between people and chimpanzees would be 160 times greater than they are.
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