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Human Evolution: No Easy Fix

Humanity is undeniably complex, and proud of it – no case, we believe, needs to be made for our biological superiority. But we may be doomed as a species precisely because of the way in which our complexity arose.

MADISON –Humans are undeniably complex, and proud of it. No case, we believe, needs to be made for our biological superiority. Our biological functions are exquisitely regulated and resilient to external variations, owing to complicated webs of interactions. Unlike other species, we seem to be endowed with willpower and intellect, hence we are capable of modifying the environment to buffer the effects of our decreasing fitness.

Be that as it may, we may be doomed as a species precisely because of the way in which our complexity arose. Paraphrasing the science writer Philip Ball, nature seems to have activated a time bomb, and our complexity is only a short-term fix.

To grasp the nature of the problem, we need to examine how humans are made at the molecular level, and contrast our constitution with that of other species that we often call “rudimentary,” such as unicellular organisms. This analysis leads us to examine proteins – our cellular building blocks and the executors of biologicalfunctions – across vastly different species. Proteins with common ancestry belonging to different species, termed “orthologs,” offer solid ground for comparison.

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