Feature Christmas 2011: Evolution

Neo-evolution: is Homo sapiens ready?

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7649 (Published 21 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7649
  1. Harvey V Fineberg, president
  1. 1Institute of Medicine, Washington, DC, USA
  1. fineberg{at}nas.edu

Harvey Fineberg contemplates the next phase of human evolution

How would you like to be better than you are? Suppose with just a few changes in your genes you could get a better memory—more precise, more accurate, and quicker. Or maybe you would like to be fitter, stronger, have more stamina. Would you like to be more attractive and self confident? How about living longer, with good health? Or perhaps you are one of those who has always yearned for more creativity. If you could have any of these it would be a very different world. Is it just imaginary, or is it perhaps possible?

Adaptation determines evolutionary success

As a physician I came to realise that the goal I was working towards was different from the goal of evolution—not necessarily contradictory, just different. I was trying to preserve the body. I wanted to keep us healthy. I wanted to restore health from disease. I wanted us to live long and healthy lives.

Genome to go

Phillippe Plailly/SPL

By contrast, evolution is all about passing on the genome to the next generation, adapting and surviving through generation after generation. From an evolutionary point of view, you and I are like the booster rockets designed to send the genetic payload into the next level of orbit and then drop off into the sea. To evolution but not to ourselves, our bodies are expendable. I think we would all understand the sentiment expressed by Woody Allen when he said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”

You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but booster rockets


Evolution does not necessarily favour the longest lived. It does not necessarily favour the biggest or the strongest or the …

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