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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sex, Genes and Rock'n'Roll

A while ago I listened to an interview on ABC Radio National with Rob Brooks, author of the book 'Sex, Genes and Rock'N'Roll: How Evolution has Shaped the Modern World'. The book is about how an evolutionary perspective can give useful and interesting insights into modern issues and problems. Brooks is an evolutionary biologist who works at UNSW. I haven't read the book, but it sounds fascinating and I will buy/beg/borrow it soon.

I didn't know that evolutionary biology even existed as a discipline; now I am absolutely intrigued.  Here are some examples of how it informs modern thinking (these are gleaned from the ABC interview and other interesting material on Brooks' website):
  • Statistically, the world's richest people are more likely to have male babies. This may mirror the evolutionary reality that if a female animal is having a bad year or is unhealthy, they are more likely to have female offspring. During the 1960s in China, there was a famine - and a huge increase in the number of female births.
  • Many diseases have a genetic basis. Natural selection has not eliminated the genes responsible because few of our ancestors lived long enough to suffer from most cancers or from dementia. Also, some genes that improve our fitness in early life come at a cost later on. For example, a gene called ApoE-ε4, elevates intelligence in early adulthood but it increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's by 5 to 20 times the normal risk. The new field of Darwinian medicine is showing how many common human maladies are a consequence of the inefficient way natural selection worked on our ancestors.
  • A study by Face Research Lab has found that women in poor health are more likely to have a preference for masculine facial features. Brooks and some collaborators hypothesised that this could be because in poorer countries where health is more likely to be poor, there is also likely to be greater inequality between the richest and the poorest households. It may follow that women prefer the most masculine men where household income and security depends more on male aggression and status. Upon testing this theory, Brooks and co found that income inequality (the Gini index, often used by economists) is a better predictor of variation among countries in preferences for masculinised faces. He also showed that homicide rate is a promising correlate of preferences – with countries where homicide rate is high also preferring more masculinised faces.
  • Evolutionary theory also predicts that a catastrophe is looming in the next decade, as 20 to 30 million more boys than girls come of age in China and India. In many animal species, when males overabound, they often compete so fiercely to court, win and even coerce the few available females into mating that everybody suffers. The same is true when the supply of men on the marriage market exceeds the demand from females.
Are you interested in this type of thing, or does it make you yawn?


  1. I find this incredibly fascinating, I might have to get the book! Isn't it amazing how they can figure this stuff out.

  2. I find this really fascinating, I have a theory that women have evolved a lot more than men in the last couple of decades, no longer were we responsible for 'gathering' whilst our men 'hunted', we started to hunt in our own right, we now work, earn a living, are educated and are mortified at the prospect of staying at home, raising children and looking after our men. Yet whilst women have evolved, not a lot has happened to help men evolve through the feminist revolution which has lead to men being quite lost and emasculated because evolutionarily, they are designed to support their family, yet women have taken that away from them and they are now lost! www.travellingbelle.com


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