The use of socially learned information (culture) is central to human adaptations. We investigate the hypothesis that the process of cultural evolution has played an active, leading role in the evolution of genes. Culture normally evolves more rapidly than genes, creating novel environments that expose genes to new selective pressures. Many human genes that have been shown to be under recent or current selection are changing as a result of new environments created by cultural innovations. Some changed in response to the development of agricultural subsistence systems in the Early and Middle Holocene, including alleles coding for adaptations to diets rich in plant starch (e.g., amylase copy number) and for adaptations to epidemic diseases that evolved as human populations expanded (e.g., sickle cell and G6PD deficiency alleles that provide protection against malaria). Large-scale scans using patterns of linkage disequilibrium to detect recent selection suggest that many more genes evolved in response to agriculture. Genetic change in response to the novel social environment of contemporary modern societies is also likely to be occurring. The functional effects of most of the alleles under selection during the last 10,000 years are currently unknown. Also unknown is the role of paleoenvironmental change in regulating the tempo of hominin evolution. Although the full extent of culture-driven gene-culture coevolution is thus far unknown for the deeper history of the human lineage, theory and some evidence suggest that such effects were profound. Genomic methods promise to have a major impact on our understanding of gene-culture coevolution over the span of hominin evolutionary history.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)