Review of dual-inheritance models

Posted on March 3, 2010


Everyone understands the feeling of excitement that a child feels upon seeing presents under the Christmas tree. Far fewer can understand that such a feeling can be caused by finding out that a particular academic article has been published. Still, I hope that some can understand or even share my joy at finding out that Kevin Laland, John Odling-Smee and Sean Myles have published a review (“How culture shaped the human genome: bringing genetics and the human sciences together”) of work on dual-inheritance explanations of human behaviour.

Researchers from diverse backgrounds are converging on the view that human evolution has been shaped by gene–culture interactions. Theoretical biologists have used population genetic models to demonstrate that cultural processes can have a profound effect on human evolution, and anthropologists are investigating cultural practices that modify current selection. These findings are supported by recent analyses of human genetic variation, which reveal that hundreds of genes have been subject to recent positive selection, often in response to human activities. Here, we collate these data, highlighting the considerable potential for cross-disciplinary exchange to provide novel insights into how culture has shaped the human genome.

Indeed, my excitement is such that I have hardly had the time to rip open the packaging before sharing my feelings. I have only just dipped into the article but, going on the authors alone, I know that here is a first rate review of a field of research that provides vital conceptual tools for the work that, I myself, am engaged in. Given that my work is something that I find to be a great source of plain, good old-fashioned fun, and that the review is of work that provides vital conceptual tools for my own research, this is kind of like like spotting a new bike under the tree.

One could almost say, “Wheelies!”