Evolution of Humans

Biologist Steve Jones on natural selection, chimpanzees, and Queen Victoria

videos | October 10, 2016

How similar are humans and orangutans? What is written in the Origins of Species about humans? How is evolution occurring now? These and other questions are answered by Professor of Human Genetics at University College London Steve Jones.

In 1852 Queen Victoria of England went to London Zoo where she saw in a cage an orangutan. She didn’t know what an orangutan is and she wrote in her diary on that day: “The orangutan is strongly and persistently and fearfully human. As she could see even before the theory of evolution had come around that actually the orangutan looked rather like a human being, and she didn’t like the idea at all.

Biologist Steve Jones on natural selection, chimpanzees, and Queen Victoria

Darwin summarized his theory is a very simple phrase: ‘evolution is descent with modification’. Descent is a passage of information from one generation to the next, modification is the fact that the passage of information is less than perfect and there are mistakes. We can summarize it in simpler words – evolution is genetics plus time: DNA, copying DNA and mutations.

Natural selection works. Does it work in humans? A short answer is yes. We’ve all heard of things such as sickle-cell anaemia which protects against malaria, and malaria has only been around about 10000 years, so that’s quite new. But there is something even more dramatic.

Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics, Principal Research Associate, University College London, Fellow of the Royal Society
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