Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Your body...and probably more than you wanted to know

The Wall Street Journal today published a story about our bodies and how evolution can be blamed for some of today's health problems. In the story, it cites the 44% of Americans, per a Gallup poll, who believe that God created humans in their present form. But most scientists see today's human body as a "collection of compromises, jury-rigged by evolution as our ancestors adapted to changing conditions."

To wit, did you know that 80% of Asians carry a gene for dry earwax? Neither did I...and neither do I particularly care. Another fun fact is that a gene for coarse hair is spreading throughout Asia--reasons unknown. (What the heck is going on in Asia anyway!? Dry earwax? Coarse hair? There must be some sort of health-and-beauty aid opportunity there somewhere.)

Less continent-specific is the fact that the brain has shrunk 10% in the past 5,000 years, again for reasons unknown. At that rate, by the year 47,010, no human will have a brain!

Finally, this gem...and back on the ears. Twenty percent of humans can wiggle their ears, a holdover from the time when primate ears turned toward sound. And, 10% have a Darwin's point, a "thickening in the upper back of the outer ear where primates once had pointed ears."

The story concludes by saying that some anthropologists contend the world's populations are becoming more diverse which will mean more gene variations in the years to come. Others say the opposite--that evolution moved quickly when people lived in smaller, isolated communities. Now, world travel, trade and intermarriage are making us much more homogeneous.

"The bigger the population, the less likely it is to change in any one direction," said Ian Tattersall, a curator for the American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY. "I don't see anything that will stop that from happening--unless we get hit by an asteroid."

Now, there's a pleasant thought...

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