Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin's legacy

This evening our family celebration the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln with cupcakes, and a few words about the legacy of these incredible men who each left an imprint on our modern world.

When Darwin formulated his theory of natural selection in the late 1800s, he had no idea what the physical mechanism of heredity was. He knew nothing about DNA or genes or genomes. It is amazing that natural selection remains the most convincing explanation for the origin of species after all this time. Darwin got so much right with so little of what we know now.

It seems fitting that on this anniversary, scientists have shed new light on human origins by completing a first draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome. It seems that the Neanderthals, who share a common ancestor with modern humans, remained a distinct species and did not interbreed with modern humans in significant numbers. It also appears that they might have had the power of speech, or at least one of the genes necessary for it. Wow.

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