Will your descendants be Eloi or Morlock? Gracile or Robust? Genetically superior upper-class or inferior, dim-witted underclass?
According to evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry, of the London School of Economics, in a report for satellite TV channel Bravo, there may well be just such a sub-division of humanity in about 100,000 years, eerily mirroring H. G. Wells’ vision of the future as told in The Time Machine, written in 1895.
Dr Curry predicts that it will take about 1,000 years for humans to evolve into giants between six and seven feet tall, while our life-spans will increase to 120 years. Our development will peak around the year 3,000 before our dependence on technology causes a decline in around 10,000 years. On the way, we’ll become choosier about our sexual partners, and this will eventually lead to the creation of the two sub-species.
The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative (what he calls “gracile”) and a far cry from the “underclass” humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures (“robust”).
Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, he says, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises. Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds. Racial differences will be ironed out by interbreeding, producing a uniform race of coffee-coloured people.
However, because of our reliance on technological gadgets designed to meet our every need, we could also come to resemble domesticated animals — important social skills, such as communicating and interacting with others, could be lost, along with emotions such as love, sympathy, trust and respect. We might become less able to care for others, or perform in teams. Physically, we may start to appear more juvenile. Chins could recede as a result of having to chew less on processed food. There could also be health problems caused by reliance on medicine, resulting in weak immune systems. Preventing deaths would also help to preserve the genetic defects that cause cancer.
“While science and technology have the potential to create an ideal habitat for humanity over the next millennium, there is a possibility of a monumental genetic hangover over the subsequent millennia due to an over-reliance on technology reducing our natural capacity to resist disease, or our evolved ability to get along with each other,” said Dr Curry.
Of course, all this assumes the human race will actually last that long. On the current evidence, I should think the jury is still out on that.
Still, evolution does appear to have a few interesting tricks still up its sleeve that might — just might — help us survive. Those tricks could be hiding in our junk.
Junk DNA, that is. A BBC News report from 2004 explains how a collection of mystery DNA segments, previously considered to be unimportant “junk” amongst the genome structure, has been causing great interest amongst scientists because they seem to be critical for the survival of many animals. Researchers inspecting the genetic code of rats, mice and humans were surprised to find they shared many identical chunks of this apparently “junk” DNA. The implication is that the “junk” code is so important that even 75 million years of evolution in these mammals couldn’t alter or do away with it.
David Haussler of the University of California, Santa Cruz, US, and his team compared the genome sequences of man, mouse and rat. They found — to their astonishment — that several great stretches of DNA were identical across the three species. The regions largely matched up with chicken, dog and fish sequences, too. (You might, however, be pleased to know that they’re absent from sea squirt and fruit flies.)
But exactly what it’s all there for, what it all does, is a puzzle.
DNA is fascinating, almost magical, stuff. Graham Hancock, in his book Supernatural, writes: A double strand of DNA ten atoms wide and nearly two metres long is coiled up inside every human cell and DNA is found in every cell of every living creature. Within each and every adult human body, there’s about 125 billion miles of submicroscopic strands of DNA folded up within its cells. (Just ponder on that for a moment …)
The traditional viewpoint had it that the really crucial bits were genes, which code for proteins — the “building blocks of life”. A few other sections that regulate gene function were also considered useful. But Hancock reminds us that genes make up only about 3% of our DNA, while the function of the other 97% remains entirely unknown.
Hancock would have been finishing and publishing his book at around the time the scientists were making their new discoveries about the so-called junk DNA, so perhaps “entirely unknown” is no longer precisely correct — but there’s still a huge mystery involved here. Why would the process of evolution leave us today with so much more DNA than we apparently need? Why, indeed, would evolution allow any redundant — “junk” — DNA sequences at all to survive within our makeup, and for so long down the evolutionary line? The process of evolution is very efficient and highly selective: all the important stuff’s kept, the rest being discarded over time. Precious energy isn’t wasted on creating anything that isn’t useful in some way. So this begs the question: what’s it all for? Some of it — the bits the scientists have been teasing out most recently — may be for controlling the activity of indispensable genes and embryo development. But that leaves a humungous amount still to be figured out.
Hancock’s book posits a radical proposal. Building on the work of others, he offers support for the idea that hidden messages, teachings and revelations were long ago coded into it by ‘clever entities’ … Perhaps our ancestors’ discovery of trance techniques and widespread use of hallucinogens not only shattered five million years of mental rigidity with extraordinary and life-changing experiences, but also gave them access to specific information, recorded billions of years previously in their DNA, deposited there by [Swiss anthropologist Jeremy] Narby’s ‘clever entities’, to await the evolution of creatures that could make use of it. Perhaps this information was packaged by its makers in such a way as to be responsive to, and highly interactive with, the cultural preconceptions of just about any creatures above a certain level of intelligence that evolution might eventually produce. Radical, indeed. But there’s no doubt that something extraordinary happened to our cave-dwelling antecedents around 40,000 years ago, producing the first art and religions, and initiating the whole suite of recognizably modern behaviour.
Perhaps also, eventually, in a distant, unknowable future ten thousand millennia hence, the purpose of this “junk” DNA will be fully revealed in the tall, gracile Eloi, and their cousins, the squat, robust Morlocks.
First, though, we’d better figure out how to save our planet — and ourselves along with it — in the immediate future.