Evolution Selection and Adaptation

Evolution simply means change in the genetic composition of a population of organisms. Examples include the evolution of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, the appearance of new strains of the AIDS virus, and the emergence of new species of organisms. The theory of natural selection is essentially this: Some individuals within a species have hereditary advantages over their competi-tors—for example, better camouflage, disease resistance, or ability to attract mates—that enable them to produce more offspring. They pass these advantages on to their offspring, and such characteristics therefore become more and more common in successive generations. This brings about the genetic change in a population that constitutes evolution.

Natural forces that promote the reproductive success of some individuals more than others are called selection pressures. They include such things as climate, predators, disease, competition, and the availability of

Saladin: Anatomy & 1. Major Themes of Text

Physiology: The Unity of Anatomy and Physiology Form and Function, Third Edition

10 Part One Organization of the Body food. Adaptations are features of an organism's anatomy, physiology, and behavior that have evolved in response to these selection pressures and enable the organism to cope with the challenges of its environment. We will consider shortly some selection pressures and adaptations that were important to human evolution.

Darwin could scarcely have predicted the overwhelming mass of genetic, molecular, fossil, and other evidence of human evolution that would accumulate in the twentieth century and further substantiate his theory. A technique called DNA hybridization, for example, suggests a difference of only 1.6% in DNA structure between humans and chimpanzees. Chimpanzees and gorillas differ by 2.3%. DNA structure suggests that a chimpanzee's closest living relative is not the gorilla or any other ape— it is us.

Several aspects of our anatomy make little sense without an awareness that the human body has a history (see insight 1.1). Our evolutionary relationship to other species is also important in choosing animals for biomedical research. If there were no issues of cost, availability, or ethics, we might test drugs on our nearest living relatives, the chimpanzees, before approving them for human use. Their genetics, anatomy, and physiology are most similar to ours, and their reactions to drugs therefore afford the best prediction of how the human body would react. On the other hand, if we had no kinship with any other species, the selection of a test species would be arbitrary; we might as well use frogs or snails. In reality, we compromise. Rats and mice are used extensively for research because they are fellow mammals with a physiology similar to ours, but they present fewer of the aforementioned issues than chimpanzees or other mammals do. An animal species or strain selected for research on a particular problem is called a model—for example, a mouse model for leukemia.

Insight 1.1 Evolutionary Medicine

Vestiges of Human Evolution

One of the classic lines of evidence for evolution, debated even before Darwin was born, is vestigial organs. These structures are the remnants of organs that apparently were better developed and more functional in the ancestors of a species. They now serve little or no purpose or, in some cases, have been converted to new functions.

Our bodies, for example, are covered with millions of hairs, each equipped with a useless little piloerector muscle. In other mammals, these muscles fluff the hair and conserve heat. In humans, they merely produce goose bumps. Above each ear, we have three auricu-laris muscles. In other mammals, they move the ears to receive sounds better, but most people cannot contract them at all. As Darwin said, it makes no sense that humans would have such structures were it not for the fact that we came from ancestors in which they were functional.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment