Human evolution has speeded up over the past 80,000 years. Dr Moyzis's paper suggests that HOMO SAPIENS is continuing to undergo local evolution. He and his colleagues reckon they can both estimate the rate of evolution and identify many of the evolving genes, by using a trick with the clumsy name of linkage disequilibrium.... In acknowledgment of these diverse circumstances, the researchers looked in detail at the DNA of four groups of people from around the planet: Yoruba from Africa, Han Chinese and Japanese from Asia, and Europeans.
The finding that may cause most controversy, however, is that in the Asian groups there has been strong selection for one variant of a gene that, in a different form, is responsible for Gaucher's disease. A few years ago two of the paper's other authors, Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, suggested that the Gaucher's form of the gene might be connected with the higher than average intelligence notable among Ashkenazi Jews. The unstated inference is that something similar might be true in Asians, too.
The Ashkenazim paper caused quite a stir at the time. It was merely a hypothesis, but it did suggest a programme of research that could be conducted to test the hypothesis. So far, no one--daring or foolish--has tried. Eventually, however, such questions will have to be faced. The paper Dr Moyzis and his colleagues have just published is a ranging shot, but the amount of recent human evolution it has exposed is surprising. Others will no doubt follow, and the genetic meaning of the term "race", if it has one, will be exposed for all to see.
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