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Author Topic: Are humans hijacking their own evolution and of everything else’s?  (Read 1690 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: April 04, 2015, 05:02:17 PM »

A new book, Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation Are Changing Life on Earth (Current, 371 pages), argues that humans are not only evolving faster than ever but are doing it not only to themselves but to virtually all species, thus directly and indirectly determining what lives, what dies, where, and when.


The authors, Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans, venture capitalists who fund biotechnology companies, claim that humans have commandeered Darwinian evolution in two ways: by developing the ability to make nonrandom designer genes to insert into their own DNA and into those of other species, and by replacing natural selection with what they (the authors) call “unnatural selection,” which covers not only the genetic changes produced by animal and plant breeding but also by whatever inadvertent selection is triggered by the despoliation of the planet. “For better or worse, we are increasingly in charge,” the authors say. “We are the primary drivers of change… We are in a different phase of evolution; the future of life is now in our hands.”

Evolving Ourselves has been hailed in the scientific community for its unblinking assessment and bold predictions about evolutionary change. Says Janet Browne, professor of the history of science at Harvard University, for one: “How big dare we dream? This intriguing, optimistic, and exhilarating book takes us into the laboratories of today’s highly innovative molecular biology to explore the possible futures of humankind. If he were alive today, Darwin would be delighted and astonished by the way his ideas have inspired such creative modern research.”

But not everybody in the science community is convinced by Enriquez and Gullans’ thesis and findings. Jerry A. Coyne, evolutionary geneticist in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, says in a review of Evolving Ourselves in the March 27, 2015 issue of the Washington Post: “…(W)hile there’s no doubt that we’re changing the planet, the claim that we’re completely changing evolution on the planet does not follow.”

Coyne, author of the book Why Evolution is True and the forthcoming Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible, argues that despite so many unanswered unknowns, Enriquez and Gullans speak with unwarranted assurance about how our species is evolving in response to nearly everything. He concludes: “By focusing on biological evolution — the change in genetic composition of a population over generations — Evolving Ourselves has missed what is truly remarkable about our species. Because we have extraordinary abilities to both learn and transmit information to other humans, we have the capacity to evolve culturally unlike any other. This doesn’t involve genetic change.”

Read “Fat? Sick? Blame Your Grandparents’ Bad Habits,” an excerpt from Juan Enriquez and Steven Gullans’ Evolving Ourselves in Wired.com now!

Read Jerry A. Coyne’s “Are humans the main driver of human evolution?” in the Washington Post now!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans, PhD, are cofounders of Excel Venture Management, which builds start-ups in synthetic biology, big data, and new genetic technologies.

Enriquez is a bestselling author and a global authority on the economic and political impacts of the life sciences. He is a TED “all-star,” lectures around the world, chairs the Genetics Advisory Council at Harvard Medical School, and was the founding director of Harvard Business School’s Life Science Project.

Gullans was a professor at Harvard Medical School for 18 years, applying breakthrough technologies to diseases such as cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. He has published more than 130 scientific papers in leading journals. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1998.

RELATED READING:
In “Imagining the Anthropocene,” an article that came out in the March 31, 2015 issue of Aeon Magazine, American law professor Jedediah Purdy says that Earth scientists and English professors alike have embraced the Anthropocene idea—a proposed geologic chronological term for an epoch that begins when human activities have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. But Purdy raises this question: “What work is this idea of the Anthropocene doing in culture and politics? As much as a scientific concept, the Anthropocene is a political and ethical gambit. Saying that we live in the Anthropocene is a way of saying that we cannot avoid responsibility for the world we are making. So far so good. The trouble starts when this charismatic, all-encompassing idea of the Anthropocene becomes an all-purpose projection screen and amplifier for one’s preferred version of ‘taking responsibility for the planet.’”  

Read Jedediah Purdy’s “Imagining the Anthropocene” in Aeon Magazine now!
« Last Edit: April 05, 2015, 01:59:08 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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