Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Evolution, a thousand years from now

AS A MUCH-NEEDED escape from the political front, I have just finished reading a piece in The Teaching Company magazine on evolution. No, I'm not taking up the shopworn debate on intelligent design. Rather, I wanted to turn the key on the lock that has isolated me from a serious understanding of what is generally called the biotech revolution, a daunting term in itself. So you won't come near getting any expertise from me on the subject. But I at least really tried to understand, if only superficially, what science is talking about in tracking the path of humans from pre-history to the billions of uprights who walk the earth today. Some escape, huh?

The magazine featured a course by Prof. Lee Silver of Princeton University and the descriptive outline - here's where I have to inch forward carefully - turned to such terms as gene sequencing, FISH (Fluorescence in Situ Hybridization), DNA microarray and molecular clock, with great strides in the field since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003. If you've stayed with me so far, there is good news to report.

It seems to me that if notable scientists are still delving into the past to extend the curve into the future, we're in luck. It tells us that we are, at this moment, still evolving and the world will still be around for us to evolve in. That , of course, is hypothetical at this point, but on the upside for all humanity.

I have no idea where that will take us because there is no certain accounting for nuclear bombs, birthers, tea baggers and William Kristol . But Darwin did provide some clues by telling us that we will adapt like his finches. Well, no, we won't turn yellow or purple each spring, but you get the point.

Since I won't be on hand to admit my mistakes, I would suggest that a human being a thousand years from now will probably have a fleshy rectangular niche in his ear where he safely and permanently implants a cell phone, much like a pacemaker. TV remotes, too often misplaced under last week's newspapers, will be passe. One will be able to switch stations by activating a tiny device that develops in the tongue and will always taste like a root beer float. And hips will have shrunk on frequent flyers to accommodate centuries of squeezing into airplane seats. Really basic stuff, if you think about it.

But remember: These alterations will only occur if evolution is sustained by an active planet itself. We can hope. On the other hand, a worst-case scenario would have human beings returning to life in the treetops. By the looks of the noisy Neanderthals at the town meetings on health care, some among us are getting a head start.

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