Cancer may have killed a young man in his prime by being undetectable until the last stage of development can now be routinely detected at sizes like a grain of sand or even smaller. Cutting edge medical treatments are making more and more diseases into mere problems instead of certain death sentences. That allows many people who would have otherwise died prematurely to thrive and potentially reproduce, impacting humanity’s gene pool.
In addition to unpredictable medical events like cancer, some routine illnesses associated with aging are also gaining improved treatment. It could drastically increase the quality of older life and further increase life expectancy. Like ligament tears and broken bones, common injuries often overlooked now as minor inconveniences once would have led to a lifetime of suffering and poverty from a lack of ability to work. Many illnesses we view as serious today may be more treatable in the near future. In turn, it may allow for increased life expectancy. Also, allowing more people to pass on diverse genes.
Compared to a century ago, we live incredibly sterile lives. While most adults, and even many children, worked outside performing physical labor every day, they were exposed to dirt and all sorts of materials that we couldn’t imagine today. Even the primmest Victorian woman would have been exposed to more soil and smog than a typical person today. We live and work in increasingly clean environments. However, people use strong and often anti-microbial cleaners that weren’t available in earlier eras. It affects us due to the lack of exposure to common microbes and our clean environments. Therefore, our immune systems show signs of collectively weakening.
While we have been well protected from many historic diseases thanks to the advent and continual development of vaccines, novel communicable illnesses may be able to run wild thanks to a lack of natural immunity. As more people shift to working from home, combined with the rise of social media as the dominant form of human interaction, people may also lose some beneficial protection from exposure to other people. While the chickenpox parties are a bygone era, there is still value for our immune system in contact with other people. As we lose that, our immune systems may lose something as well.
It is already well documented that modern humans’ jaws are considerably weaker than our ancient hunt-gatherer ancestors due to our processed diets. We simply don’t need the strength of chewing that our ancestors did. Thus, we lost muscle, and our heads got smaller. Similarly, our muscles are expected to atrophy. Our bodies get overall less toned as we become increasingly sedentary due to the internet, sedentary office jobs, long commutes, and other modern daily life forces. Even with daily exercise, we simply don’t move as much as humans did even a century or two ago.
The Wall-E vision of humans having to fly around on sedan chairs isn’t very likely. However, we may overall become a slightly more Hobbit-like people. We could develop smaller bodies that are prone to a bit of flabbiness. You might not be made for feats of strength. While this may seem grim, the change to our heads and jaws shows that some changes are just a natural response to how we live our lives, and changes to our muscles would be no different. Our diets may also change in response to the reduced need for calories to support less muscle mass.
Lactose intolerance isn’t a serious condition. Apologies to everyone lactose intolerant who’s had a nasty run-in with a cheese pizza. However, this condition did likely have a strong impact on people in past eras when digestive health wasn’t as easy to treat. Supplements like Lactaid were not available to make milk digestive. When food diversity was far lesser than today, the inability to consume valuable calcium, fat and other nutrients in milk products may have been a serious issue. This is especially true in impoverished populations. Babies born with lactose intolerance would have been at particular risk if their mothers couldn’t nurse.
Compare that to today, when not only is lactose intolerance incredibly easy to treat, but there are countless healthy alternatives available to dairy products. People make kinds of milk from the seeds of flowers to ground nuts to oats. They can make cheese and yogurts from soy and almond milk and several other alternatives. Not only is it possible to live with lactose intolerance, but it’s also relatively easy to thrive. It should come as no surprise then that lactose intolerance is proliferating, including in cultures where milk has historically been consumed. The easier it is to find alternatives and treatments for a condition, the more prevalent they could become.
2. Surgeries Are Less Invasive and More Survivable
The invention of laparoscopic technology made a vast array of medical procedures incredibly less invasive and, therefore, less likely to have complications that lead to death. Before may have required cracking the chest open, it can now be handled through the insertion of a small catheter. Surgeries in the abdomen, in particular, have become safer due to the reduced risk of damaging an intestine and causing sepsis. While still risky, brain surgeries have also become safer thanks to the creation of specialized tools that minimize invasiveness. As surgeons themselves become better trained and used to this technology, surgeries continue to evolve safer.
Safer surgery for such a wide range of conditions means that illnesses and congenital disabilities that may have killed people in their youth are now treatable at a much lower risk. More people can survive heart defects, cancers, and more thanks to laparoscopy. Furthermore, they are far less likely ever to develop complications. These people being able to survive thanks to modern medicine will, like many other advances, allow a more diverse crop of genetic material to be passed on to future generations. It also means that we will continue to narrow the list of illnesses that are certain death.
The concept of altering our own genes is still incredibly controversial, but it’s on the horizon nonetheless. Scientific missions like the Human Genome Project, overseen by the Human Genome Organization, continue to map the incredible complexity of the human genome, finding more and more genetic causes for a wide range of illnesses and disabilities from ADHD to diabetes. As we discover the role of genetics in more and more diseases, we may someday find a way to treat those diseases before they ever even develop by altering the genes of the person affected. Genetic testing kits are also allowing people unprecedented access to their own genetic information.
If it becomes possible to treat genetic illnesses before they ever develop symptoms, it is entirely possible that genetic conditions will cease to trouble humanity. There are also fears that we may use such science to edit specific genes. Why? To stop their ever expressing or, at the worst, stop certain people from reproducing to wipe genes out entirely. While these procedures and medical guidelines will be the earnest debates of medical ethicists and scientists alike, what is clear is that molecular and genetic medicine has the potential to vastly impact natural selection and health in humans in the not-too-distant future.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:
“10 Ways Modern Technology Is Destroying Natural Selection,” by Oliver Taylor. Listverse. July 13, 2019.
“The Real Effects of Technology on Your Health.” Everyday Health. November 15, 2017.
“How Do Genetically Modified Foods Affect Your Health?” by Rachel Mount. O Magazine.
“7 Ways GMOs Affect Your Health,” by Alana Marie Burke. Newsmax. February 9, 2015.
“Japan’s birth rate hits another record low” by Emiko Jozuka, Jessie Yeung, Jake Kwon, CNN December 29, 2019.
“The Impact of Technology on the Human Body” by Jet Khasriya. Apetogentleman.com
“Technologys Effect on Our Health the Good the Bad and the Ugly” by USF Health Information
“7 Ways Modern Technology May Be Affecting Human Evolution” by Joe McGauley, Thrillist August 19, 2015