November 18, 2011

Is the Human Species in Evolution's Fast Lane?



"We are more different genetically from people living 5,000 years ago than they were different from Neanderthals."

John Hawks -University of Wisconsin anthropologist

In a fascinating discovery that counters a common theory that human evolution has slowed to a crawl or even stopped in modern humans, a new study examining data from an international genomics project describes the past 40,000 years as a time of supercharged evolutionary change, driven by exponential population growth and cultural shifts.
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The findings may lead to a very broad rethinking of human evolution, especially in the view that modern culture has essentially relaxed the need for physical genetic changes in humans to improve survival.

A team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist John Hawks estimates that positive selection just in the past 5,000 years alone -dating back to the Stone Age - has occurred at a rate roughly 100 times higher than any other period of human evolution. Many of the new genetic adjustments are occurring around changes in the human diet brought on by the advent of agriculture, and resistance to epidemic diseases that became major killers after the growth of human civilizations.


"In evolutionary terms, cultures that grow slowly are at a disadvantage, but the massive growth of human populations has led to far more genetic mutations," says Hawks. "And every mutation that is advantageous to people has a chance of being selected and driven toward fixation. What we are catching is an exceptional time."

While the correlation between population size and natural selection is nothing new - it was a core premise of Charles Darwin, Hawks says - the ability to bring quantifiable evidence to the table is a new and exciting outgrowth of the Human Genome Project.

In the hunt for recent genetic variation in the genome map the project has cataloged the individual differences in DNA called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The project has mapped roughly 4 million of the estimated 10 million SNPs in the human genome. Hawks' research focuses on a phenomenon called linkage disequilibrium (LD). These are places on the genome where genetic variations are occurring more often than can be accounted for by chance, usually because these changes are affording some kind of selection advantage.

The researchers identify recent genetic change by finding long blocks of DNA base pairs that are connected. Because human DNA is constantly being reshuffled through recombination, a long, uninterrupted segment of LD is usually evidence of positive selection. Linkage disequilibrium decays quickly as recombination occurs across many generations, so finding these uninterrupted segments is strong evidence of recent adaptation, Hawks says.

Employing this test, the researchers found evidence of recent selection on approximately 1,800 genes, or 7 percent of all human genes.

This finding runs counter to conventional wisdom in many ways, Hawks says. For example, there's a strong record of skeletal changes that clearly show people became physically smaller, and their brains and teeth are also smaller. This is generally seen as a sign of relaxed selection - that size and strength are no longer key to survival.

But other pathways for evolution have opened, Hawks says, and genetic changes are now being driven by major changes in human culture. One good example is lactase, the gene that helps people digest milk. This gene normally declines and stops activity about the time one becomes a teenager, Hawks says. But northern Europeans developed a variation of the gene that allowed them to drink milk their whole lives - a relatively new adaptation that is directly tied to the advance of domestic farming and use of milk as an agricultural product.

The biggest new pathway for selection relates to disease resistance, Hawks says. As people starting living in much larger groups and settling in one place roughly 10,000 years ago, epidemic diseases such as malaria, smallpox and cholera began to dramatically shift mortality patterns in people. Malaria is one of the clearest examples, Hawks says, given that there are now more than two dozen identified genetic adaptations that relate to malaria resistance, including an entirely new blood type known as the Duffy blood type.

Another recently discovered gene, CCR5, originated about 4,000 years ago and now exists in about 10 percent of the European population. It was discovered recently because it makes people resistant to HIV/AIDS. But its original value might have come from obstructing the pathway for smallpox.

"There are many things under selection that are making it harder for pathogens to kill us," Hawks says.

Population growth is making all of this change occur much faster, Hawks says, giving a tribute to Charles Darwin. When Darwin wrote in "Origin of the Species" about challenges in animal breeding, he always emphasized that herd size "is of the highest importance for success" because large populations have more genetic variation, Hawks says.

The parallel to humans is obvious: The human population has grown from a few million people 10,000 years ago to about 200 million people at A.D. 0, to 600 million people in the year 1700, to more than 6.5 billion today. Prior to these times, the population was so small for so long that positive selection occurred at a glacial pace, Hawks says.

"What's really amazing about humans," Hawks continued, "that is not true with most other species, is that for a long time we were just a little ape species in one corner of Africa, and weren't genetically sampling anything like the potential we have now."

The recent changes are especially striking.

"Five thousand years is such a small sliver of time - it's 100 to 200 generations ago. That's how long it's been since some of these genes originated, and today they are in 30 or 40 percent of people because they've had such an advantage. It's like 'invasion of the body snatchers.'"

The Wisconsin study is published in the Dec. 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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November 15, 2011

NASA Planet Earth Time Lapse Video – check this out!

The crew of Expedition 29 on board the International Space Station has captured new footage of our planet, providing a view most of us could only dream of. These shots, recently released by NASA, were taken between August and October this year. The video is a time lapse of photography showing 18 different sequences of photos. Viewers can get a clear look at the reds and greens from Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis, as well as lights glaring from the world’s cities. Check it out!




 


Shooting locations in order of appearance:

1. Aurora Borealis Pass over the United States at Night
2. Aurora Borealis and eastern United States at Night
3. Aurora Australis from Madagascar to southwest of Australia
4. Aurora Australis south of Australia
5. Northwest coast of United States to Central South America at Night
6. Aurora Australis from the Southern to the Northern Pacific Ocean
7. Halfway around the World
8. Night Pass over Central Africa and the Middle East
9. Evening Pass over the Sahara Desert and the Middle East
10. Pass over Canada and Central United States at Night
11. Pass over Southern California to Hudson Bay
12. Islands in the Philippine Sea at Night
13. Pass over Eastern Asia to Philippine Sea and Guam
14. Views of the Mideast at Night
15. Night Pass over Mediterranean Sea
16. Aurora Borealis and the United States at Night
17. Aurora Australis over Indian Ocean
18. Eastern Europe to Southeastern Asia at Night

Music: Jan Jelinek | Do Dekor, faitiche back2001
w+p by Jan Jelinek, published by Betke Edition

November 11, 2011

Saturday Video: The Praying Mantis at III Documentary




Wild life at the Isha Institute in TN. The wide spectrum of fauna and flora that's present here at the Cumberland Plateau always amazes me. This is just one small example of what's here. Enjoy!

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November 10, 2011

Oak Park schools try to 'cool down' students with yoga


Hello and welcome to this week's post about kids yoga. Yoga is a sure way of calming kids down, and many parents and teachers are slowly beginning to recognize this . We hear more and more about school programs that are being applied across the country to improve student's results.
At the Isha Yoga Institute is also offering yearly Summer Yoga Camp for Kids, which is becoming more popular each time. [Read about teenager and his Isha Yoga Experience]

November 3, 2011

A day with the Master



Sathsang with Sadhguru, USA

Welcome back to Still is Chill. Since Sadhguru came to III, I didn't have much time to blog. I did little bit, but definitely not enough for such a wonderful audience that you are! The time offline was wonderfull, so many people came over to be with Sadhguru, especially for the weekend of "In The Presence of The Master". It was a truly pleasurable experience to serve all of the guest, and volunteers.
Sathsang with Sadhguru, USA
 
As people were leaving after the weekend, the Ashram became quieter and quieter. The following Wednesday was Diwali, Sadhguru came and spent about an hour with us at night. It was a brief Sathsang.
Next week, on Monday, we were told that Sadhguru will come to join us for lunch. We started with the preparations early on Tuesday morning. He showed up around 9:30am, stepping out of the car wearing a tall black witch's hat as it was the day after Halloween. Everybody was laughing, you should have seen the scene! After we finished eating lunch, we all went and sat for Sathsang. It was a perfect fall day: clear sky, warm sun and Sounds of Isha in the background.
During the Sathsang, Sadhguru spoke about many different things. Some of them also mentioned in his latest blog spot.
Sathsang with Sadhguru, USA



"If there is something that you want to do in your life, invariably that will demand that you do so many things that you don’t want to do. See now, all I want to do is fly, but I have to do a lot of math. So what I avoided all my life, now I have to sit down and do it because I want to do what I want to do. This is so with everything."




After the sathsang we all went for a walk. The whole group went to see the Theerth Site which is almost ready for the construction. If you who haven't seen it, it's a 12 acres ellipsoid clearing in the middle of the forest logged by previous owners. It's really exiting! We still don't know what will happen there, but for sure it's all in our hands; all the Isha US meditators will play huge role in this. After discussing different possibilities with the construction committees, we started heading back. By the time Sadhguru comes in the spring of 2012, we should know what is going to stand there.

November 1, 2011

ISHA HERBAL natural products launched by Sadhguru



"These are not necessarily for the sick, these are for those who want to be alive. These are not even supplements; they should have been part of your diet. You’re eating out of a marketplace, not out of nature. Because of that, these things need to be added, and I think it will be a very important addition, particularly to the western part of the world. Genuine herbs, which can make a difference in one’s aliveness – you don’t need health, you need aliveness. If this system is alive enough, it will create health. So Isha Herbal is one step towards this."



– Sadhguru