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2009年11月25日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 24(IHT/Asahi: November 25,2009)
EDITORIAL: Evolution headed where?.

Charles Darwin's seminal work "On the Origin of Species" revolutionized not only biology but also people's perception of the human race. It was first published on Nov. 24, 1859, exactly 150 years ago.

This year also marks the bicentennial of Darwin's birth. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, also shares the same birthday--Feb. 12, 1809. Like Darwin, Lincoln changed history. With a rash of publications and events to commemorate the anniversary of Darwin's landmark theory, it behooves us to think anew about the human species from an evolutionary aspect.

From the time Darwin conceived the notion of evolution during his voyage on the Beagle, it took him more than 20 years to mull over his ideas and finally put them down in book form. One of the reasons it took so long was that Darwin anticipated strong resistance from society, especially the church. In fact, it was not until 1996 that the late Pope John Paul II finally acknowledged the theory of evolution as "more than just a hypothesis."

All species evolve and branch out. The validity of Darwin's theory is also borne out by a finding that humans are close to chimpanzees. Their genetic differences amount to only 1.2 percent. Humans are not so special after all.

What Darwin called "dizzying diversity of life" is a product of evolution and cataclysmic changes in the Earth's environment. But with humans now ruining that diversity, it has become more important than ever to understand where humans belong in the evolutionary chain.

In the United States, many people still believe in creationism and vehemently object to the theory of evolution being taught in schools. We can only hope that the Obama administration's respect for science will steer the United States into a society that is more accepting of Darwinism.

Japan has contributed significantly to the advancement of the theory of evolution.

As a key mechanism of evolution, Darwin proposed that the process of natural selection produces mutations favorable to the survival and propagation of species.

In 1968, however, the Japanese biologist Motoo Kimura (1924-1994) introduced the theory of neutrality of molecular evolution. Kimura argued that about 80 percent of sudden changes in protein and other substances are neither beneficial nor harmful, and that whether the mutants survive is accidental.

Kimura's theory was met with considerable opposition at first, but has since come to be accepted as one of the two pillars to support Darwin's theory of evolution along with natural selection.

According to Mariko Hasegawa, a professor of anthropology at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies, living creatures possess numerous mutant factors, some of which kick in when the environment has changed. For instance, there are Antarctic fish whose blood does not freeze. It appears that their mutant factor helped when they were migrating and found themselves in sub-zero waters.

Humans, on the other hand, have caused their environment to change considerably over the last 10,000 years. Today's children are growing up quite differently from their peers in the past. Of the five senses, only the visual sense is inundated with information. The other senses tend to remain less developed. How will humans change in the environment of their own making? The future of the human race is something to think about.


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