Evolution and human adaptation. Evolution and human adaptation

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1 Evolution and human adaptation ANTH 306/Medical Anthropology Evolution and human adaptation Readings: Chapter 3 of McElroy and Townsend Genes, Culture and Adaptation, pages S. Boyd Eaton, Marjorie Shostak, Melvin Konner: Stone Agers in the Fast Lane Wenda Trevathan: Evolutionary Medicine: An Overview. Highly recommended: Human Biological Adaptability: An Introduction to Human Responses to Common Environmental Stresses 1

2 Adaptation Change & variation developing over time in response to the pressures of a given environment (M&T page 83). The core concept of medical ecology approach emphasizing study of health & disease in environmental context. Health viewed as a measure of adaptation to environment. Human adaptation Humans can adapt or adjust in several ways: 1. Biological Genetic Physiological 2. Cultural Individual/psychological Group Taken from McElroy & Townsend s text, 3 rd edition. 2

3 Distribution of Human Diversity Physical traits that are often thought of as clustering together among particular peoples often have much broader distributions. Continue well outside of the geographic areas in which a "race" is stereotypically supposed to exist. An example is dark skin: usually thought of as key trait in distinguishing sub- Saharan Africans from people elsewhere in world. but dark brown skin is also found in southern Asia, Australia, New Guinea and on nearby islands of Melanesia, as well as in much of the Americas. Human skin Body s largest organ. Comprised of 2 major layers: Thin outer layer, epidermis. Thicker, inner layer, dermis. Skins functions in many ways: Thermoregulation Protection from physical & chemical injury. Protection from invasion by microorganisms. Aids in synthesis of vitamin D, an essential nutrient. 3

4 Skin color & adaptation As one of most conspicuous of human physical traits, skin color has attracted a lot more attention than any other aspect of human variability. Has served as a primary feature in most systems of racial classification, regardless of dubious scientific basis of these schemes. 4

5 Biological Determinants of Skin Color Human skin color has wide spectrum of colors. Pigments Carotene, Hemoglobin, & Melanin involved in determining skin color. Primary determinant of variability in human skin color is amount, density, & distribution of melanin which helps protect us from ultraviolet light. Generally, amount of melanin in skin depends on a combination of inherited factors & degree of light exposure. 5

6 Distribution of human skin color prior to 1500 The distribution of human skin color before A.D and the average amount of ultraviolet radiation in watt-seconds per square kilometer. 6

7 The evolution of human skin coloration. Nina G. Jablonski and George Chaplin, Journal of Human Evolution (2000) 39, Skin coloration in humans is highly adaptive and has evolved to accommodate the physiological needs of humans as they have dispersed to regions of widely varying annual UVMED. The dual selective pressures of photoprotection and vitamin D3 synthesis have created two clines of skin pigmentation. The first cline, from the equator to the poles, is defined by the significantly greater need for photoprotection at the equator in particular and within the tropics in general. Deeply melanized skin protects against folate photolysis and helps to prevent UV-induced injury to sweat glands (and subsequent disruption of thermoregulation). The second cline, from approximately 30N to the North Pole, is defined by the greater need in high latitudes to accommodate as much previtamin D3 synthesis as possible in areas of low annual UVMED. Humans inhabiting regions at the intersection of these clines demonstrate a potential for developing varying degrees of facultative pigmentation (tanning) (Quevedo et al., 1975). Moderately melanized skin would appear to be at risk of vitamin D3 deficiency and rickets under conditions where UV radiation is restricted as a result of latitude, cultural practices or both. Genetic change Skin color typifies adaptation through genetic change because it: occurs at population level is based on inherited traits is irreversible Nina Jabonskion human skin color. 7

8 Physiological changes Take place at individual level, occur within a lifetime. Can be reversible or irreversible. 1. Homeostatic responses immediate and aimed at restoring balance. are reversible. examples: sweating to cool, shivering to stay warm, constriction of pupil in excess light. 2. Developmental adjustments take longer to develop. are irreversible. Example: physiological adaptations made to hypoxia by high altitude populations. High altitude adaptation Two major kinds of environmental stresses at high altitude for humans. 1. Alternating daily extremes of temperature often range from hot, sun-burning days to freezing nights. windsoften strong & humidity low;rapid dehydration occurs. 2. Lower air pressure. Air pressure decreases as altitude increases Usually is most significant limiting factor in high mountain regions. 8

9 High altitude At high altitudes, body initially develops inefficient, stressful physiological responses. Breathing & heart rate double even while resting. Pulse rate & blood pressure as heart pumps harder to get more oxygen to cells. More efficient response normally develops later as acclimatizationtakes place. More red blood cells & capillaries are produced to carry more oxygen. Lungs increase in size to facilitate osmosis of oxygen & carbon dioxide. Increase in vascular network of muscles enhances transfer of gases. But successful acclimatization rarely results in same level of physical & mental fitness that was typical of lower altitudes. High altitude adaptation Great variability exists in human ability to adjust to high mountainous regions. Over many generations natural selection has resulted in some populations being genetically more suited to stresses at high altitude. Most successful populations are those whose ancestors have lived at high altitudes for thousands of years. Examples: Native peoples of Andes Mountains of South America. Populations of the Himalayan Mountains and high plateau of South Asia. An Andean woman and Himalayan man: Her red cheeks primarily due to increased blood flow near the skin surface. More red blood cells helps her get oxygen to the cells of her body. 9

10 High altitude adaptation Evolving Altitude Aptitude Many anatomical & physiological adjustments of Hypoxia and adaptation to altitude: high altitude natives are Reading Between the Genes developmental, occurring before birth & during childhood. Some high altitude populations bodies produce more oxygen carrying hemoglobin in blood. Lung expansion capability is usually greater. Lower birth weights. Slower growth rates. Cultural adaptation Even though they are learned, cultural adaptations still have certain biological bases, such as: large/complex brain bipedal locomotion digital dexterity Advantages of cultural adaptation: Can occur very rapidly. Flexibility enables adjustment to wide range of conditions. Learningmeans individuals benefit from knowledge, skills, ideas of many different people within one s group & through time. 10

11 Cultural adaptation McElroy & Townsend note that a danger of functionalist hypotheses is tendency to assume that allcustoms have some adaptive value or function. Many examples contradict this assumption. Numerous health risks posed by female circumcision (AKA female genital mutilation): tetanus, hemorrhage, shock, urinary tract infections, incontinence, chronic pelvic infections, obstructed labor in childbirth, sterility, etc. Psychological adaptation M & T discuss individual coping mechanisms used to deal with chronic or progressive diseases or a disability. One example is Robert Murphy s autobiographical account The Body Silent. A major component of adapting to physical impairment can involve redefinition of the meaning of that impairment. 'Fresh Air' at 20: Anthropologist Robert Murphy 11

12 Psychological adaptation Gay Becker s study of deaf community (M &T page 126). Long-term support networks of deaf are adaptive in old age. Interdependence developed in adapting to hearing loss is pre-adaptive to old age. Adaptation to old age (from Growing Old in Silence) Aging in Today's World: Conversations Between an Anthropologist and a Physician Gay Becker Memorial Fund 12

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