Anatomist and anthropologist Dr Alice Roberts takes a look at the evolutionary process and asks what the future holds for humans.
Did we escape Darwin's law of the survival of the fittest?
Many scientists had assumed that humans stopped evolving when we started insulating ourselves from the whims of nature. Why would our genes need to adapt if we have clothes to keep us warm, farming to stave off famine, and medicine to make sure we live long enough to have children?
But the mapping of the human genome means that scientists now have a history of our evolution. And that’s given us some astonishing news: not only have humans continued to evolve over the past 50,000 years, we may have been evolving more quickly than at any time in our history. In many cases, it’s technology – the very thing that we thought would stop evolution – that’s been driving it.
Dr Alice Roberts meets the scientists who are analysing recent changes in the human genome, and explores their evidence for our recent genetic mutations. She discovers how diseases have shaped our evolution, and how they will continue to do so, despite our modern medicine. She meets the scientists who have been studying, and even driving, evolution in animals and plants, and discovers just how quickly humans could change, confronting the idea that evolution takes hundreds of thousands of years.
Could we evolve into two separate species, as one evolutionist thinks is inevitable? Will technology change us, and could the human body become an irrelevance? Ultimately, Alice asks the question: if we can control the evolution of plants and animals, can we control our own evolution? Has natural selection become irrelevant to us – not because we’ve stopped evolving – but because we can dictate our own evolutionary path?
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