16 January 2010

Will We Continue to Evolve?

The well known phrase "survival of the fittest" refers to evolution. Individuals that develop beneficial traits through mutation survive, while individuals who lack beneficial traits (or worse who possess traits which handicap them) die off. In the long run the beneficial traits are spread throughout the species. An ongoing process that weeds out undesirable mutations and strengthens the population.

But will humans continue to evolve? We are no longer subject to survival of the fittest. Our environment does not kill off mutations which hinder rather than help. Medical technology can save some of the most ridiculously unhealthy individuals. Cancer, heart disease, major food allergies, respiratory problems. All of these are on the rise. Some of it is directly linked to the American lifestyle. But these problems are also appearing in nations which do not share our lack of exercise and penchant for too much food.

Each time medicine saves someone with a disease, either hereditary or contracted, we give that individual a chance to procreate, to pass on genes that are more susceptible to such diseases. With nature unable to checkmate such mutations, these genes spread throughout our population. This begs two important questions. With our environment no longer weeding out bad mutations, will we evolve any further? But more importantly, because we protect even the sickest of our society, will we begin to roll back our evolution? Will we end up as a civilization of sickly individuals inextricably dependent on science and medicine in order to simply survive long enough to procreate and create the next diseased generation?