What if you were told that human evolution is actually moving along much faster in recent decades than it used to in the past several centuries?
A recent study published in the Journal of Anatomy by Dr Teghan Lucas and professors Maciej Henneberg and Jaliya Kumaratilake, of Flinders University in Adelaide has determined that humans are undergoing a “rapid evolution” at the moment.
According to the research, more and more babies are born without wisdom teeth and with shorter faces due to people’s ever decreasing lack of need for strong jaws. This is good news because for centuries, many have had to deal with dental problems caused by wisdom teeth.
“This is happening in time as we have learned to use fire and process foods more. A lot of people are just being born without wisdom teeth,” Dr. Teghan Lucas said.
There’s also an increase of people born with additional bones in their arms and legs, as well as with some abnormal connections in two or more bones in people’s feet. There’s even an increase of people born with an additional median artery in their arms compared to data from the 19th century.
The additional artery is curious as it’s something that commonly forms in babies while they’re still in their mothers’ wombs to supply blood to the forearm and the hands. However, under a “normal” course of development of the fetus, this artery is supposed to disappear during gestation and get replaced by ulnar and radial arteries.
“Since the 18th century, anatomists have been studying the prevalence of this artery in adults and our study shows it’s clearly increasing,” Dr. Lucas said. She went on to elaborate exactly how significant the increase is.
“The prevalence was around 10% in people born in the mid-1880s compared to 30% in those born in the late 20th century, so that’s a significant increase in a fairly short period of time when it comes to evolution.”
“This increase could have resulted from mutations of genes involved in median artery development or health problems in mothers during pregnancy, or both actually,” Dr. Lucas added. “If this trend continues, a majority of people will have a median artery of the forearm by 2100.”
The main takeaway from the study is that humans are now evolving at a much faster rate than at any other period during the last 250 years of the recorded history of human anatomy. According to the authors, this is a matter of simple natural selection – as our world and lifestyle change more and more, so do the ways in which we select our life partners.
We may be used to talking about the “unnatural” ways we’ve been changing our species’ development in recent decades but from an evolutionary point of view, it’s all just natural selection. As to where all that would lead – it remains to be seen.