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Huge study across 160 cities may have discovered what drives evolution on Earth

Published May 23rd, 2023 3:20PM EDT
Earth in space
Image: Tryfonov / Adobe

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Humanity is driving evolution on Earth. At least, that’s what a new project involving 287 scientists across 160 cities in 26 different countries has suggested. That research suggests that over the past few thousand years humanity has not only driven the direction of the Earth’s climate, but that it has also driven the direction of life itself on our little planet.

That’s a bit claim, but the researchers say they have the evidence to back it up. The study, which was published last year, focused on the white clover – a plant native to Europe and West Asia – as a model. This plant is now found in cities all around the world.

The researchers collected over 110,000 samples from those cities and found that clover in one city was more similar to those found in other cities around the world than the clover found outside the city in nearby farmlands. This similarity, the researchers say, is an example of parallel adaptive evolution, where separate populations are shaped by similar pressure to match specific traits.

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Urbanization has an intriguing effect on the direction life is going on Earth. Image source: andreas hennings/EyeEm/Adobe

This, then, shows just how humans and the influence they have on the world around them are shaping these traits, and therefore driving the direction of evolution on Earth more than natural phenomena like population genetics and climate. It’s an intriguing discovery, but one that isn’t really that surprising.

The things that we as humans do have a distinct impact on Earth, whether it has to do with the greenhouse gases driving global warming and threatening to raise sea levels, or the way that different plants grow in cities compared to the countryside. However, having scientific proof of just how powerful of a driving force we are is important, because it could help us identify ways to improve that drive, rather than forcing it in a bad direction.

Urbanization and the expansion of human cities and towns have very distinct effects on our planet, and the better we understand that, the better we’ll be able to drive evolution in the proper direction. This latest research was published in Science last year, and researchers continue to learn more about how humans evolved, too, and what brought us here.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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