60,000 years ago, when humans were migrating northward from Africa into colder climates, a single-letter DNA switch–from a G to an A–proved to help humans brave more frigid temperatures. Stanford University researchers have found, however, that this genetic change has also brought decreased height and resulted in increased risk of arthritis 1.3 to 1.8-fold in Eurasian populations.
Yet we should take heart in the biological adaptability of humans to changing circumstances, even as we are mindful of the trade-offs we make as a result of technological dependence–like exchanging nut-chewing for intelligence. When we imagine the kind of future we want our descendants to inherit, we should bear in mind that they will not be Homo sapiens as we know them. They will go on evolving right alongside technology–and maybe complicitly, we will have contributed to that evolution.
The new Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics is predicted to improve the University’s reputation in the field, as well as draw top talent to Stanford.