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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tool Usage and Genetic Atrophy

Most people would agree that moles developed blindness due to something called "genetic atrophy". Many complex features of our anatomy probably need constant selective pressure - without which they would fade away. (PubMed Link)

However, it's more controversial to claim that this is a driving factor in human evolution. Many of my arguments, when presented in various fora (including conversation with biologists at the AAAS conference), are met with skepticism.

Still, I persist... so here's my (probably will be unpublished) response to the recent article in New Scientist that there is "no theory" to explain the evolution of human hairlessness.

Dear Feedback,

My theory has consistently been that hairlessness evolved in response to wearing clothing.

No one would dispute that early intelligent hominids surely began to wear clothing in response to the cold.

The lack of need for warmth would induce a genetic atrophy for hair. Atrophy is a slow, but persistent effect in evolution - leading to blindness in moles, for example.

And, knowing what we do about early hominids, their wardrobe would immediately begin having cultural importance, signifying cultural advancement. Sexual selection would favor those wearing advanced clothing as a sign of intelligence and tribal membership. Finally, there may have always been selective pressure for "youth as beauty" in human culture. Children are more hairless than adults - thus selection for hairless adults would be favored.

There are so many contributing factors that, without the need for warmth, our hair probably evolved away rather quickly.

- Erik A.
Durham, NC

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