Researchers have developed a new method to discover the precise genetic differences between humans and our ape relatives. … More A New Method to Detect Natural Selection in Genes
In a recent episode of This World of Humans, I interview Dr. Dan Graur of the University of Houston about his recent paper entitled, An Upper Limit on the Functional Fraction of the Human Genome. … More How much of our genome is junk?
Despite being one of the most influential of the early modern biologists and having crucially paved the way for Darwin, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck has mostly gone down in history for being wrong. His theory of “use and disuse” as a mechanism for evolution was roundly rejected and is often presented in introductory biology textbooks as totally misguided and even … More In Defense of Lamarck: Historical, Philosophical, and Biological Vindication of Evolution’s First Big Idea
Greg Graffin, the front man for the punk band Bad Religion and also a lecturer in evolutionary biology at Cornell (!), has published a new book entitled “Population Wars: A New Perspective on Competition and Coexistence.” The first half of Population Wars reads like a piece-meal, out-of-order autobiography, with Graffin narrating several fairly ordinary moments of … More Book Review: Population Wars by Greg Graffin
Earlier this year, Columbia University Press published a book entitled “Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome” by Nessa Carey. A popular science book written for a general audience, “Junk DNA” is an exploration of all the ways that DNA can function without coding for proteins. As the author rightly decries, the protein-coding regions of our DNA have gotten … More Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome
In the popular coverage of science, the question is sometimes raised, “Are humans still evolving?” Some high-profile science figures such as Sir David Attenborough, and even some biologists, such as Professor Steve Jones of University College London, have said that, “evolution is over” for humans, at least in the developed West. This view is wrong. … More Yes, Humans Are Still Evolving
In the study of human evolution, one conundrum has always vexed us: how did humans evolve such powerful brains? Few Differences in Chimp and Human DNA The genome of Homo sapiens is remarkably similar to those of our closest extant relatives, the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and the pigmy chimpanzee, or bonobo (Pan paniscus). On the sequence level, we … More Genes Found that May Explain Expansion of Higher Brain Function in Homo sapiens
The practice of genealogy, researching one’s ancestors and family tree, has exploded lately. Ancestry.com has become a huge success, boasting millions of subscribers and a net worth well over half a billion dollars. Many, if not most, families in the US have at least one person actively researching the long-forgotten twists and turns of their … More The Meaning and Meaninglessness of Genealogy
Summary Scientists have observed that a Florida lizard species has moved much higher in the trees when faced with competition from a new competitor, an invasive lizard species from Cuba. Living higher in the trees involves different physical demands. Most importantly, the branches are younger, making them thinner and smoother. A recent experiment has shown … More Florida Lizards Show that Evolutionary Change Can Be Rapid
(A discussion of how fear and anxiety evolved in animals is found in my book.) Some animals are genetically programmed to fear their predators. Mice naturally fear cats; fish naturally fear birds. But what about humans? Are we naturally disposed to fear certain dangerous animals? It is certainly true that some things are feared more commonly than … More Are Humans Predisposed to Fear Snakes?