Acceleration of human adaptive evolution

I’ve been following a fascinating conversation about this paper: Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution by John Hawks et al. In this paper the authors found that:

Genomic surveys in humans identify a large amount of recent positive selection. Using the 3.9-million HapMap SNP dataset, we found that selection has accelerated greatly during the last 40,000 years.

There is an interesting discussion going on in the blogosphere.

RPM of Evolgen believes that there is a “conflating of accelerated adaptive evolution with accelerated evolution.” John Hawks, on his own blog of course :), responds, and RPM responds again, as does PopGen Ramblings ( and here, and here).

I don’t have a useful contribution to make to this discussion, I find the discussion fascinating and tend to agree with RPM and PopGens that there are some legitimate scientific concerns with this research… when I’m not reading Hawks’ responses and paper ;).

But something else did catch my eye, how much the study and discussion of biology has changed in a short time. I started my Ph.D. program within a couple weeks of the official start of the Human Genome Project in 1990. The now-ubiquitous BLAST algorithm was published a year later in 1991. I remember very clearly the very day my fellow Ph.D. student (she’s another author on this blog :) came into my lab in 1993 and showed me this cool new “World Wide Web” and Mosaic. I was hooked.

Now, barely more than a decade later, I’m reading a major PNAS paper whose research material and methods relies on data deposited in the databases and presented by the HapMap and the UCSC Genome Browser web sites (btw, Hawks et al. haven’t as far as I can tell, but it’d be great if more researchers would publish custom annotation tracks of their data in their papers*. Would make for much easier science :).

and…

the author and other scientists are discussing this research on weblogs (which technically are only about 10 years old).

Forgive the navel gazing, I’m getting old or something, but isn’t 15 years not _that_ long ago?