Director of the University’s Milner Centre for Evolution, Professor Laurence Hurst, has worked with TED-Ed to produce an animation on whether human evolution is still happening.
The animation considers 'recent' evolutionary changes witnessed in humans, including the ability of certain people born at high altitude to adapt to low oxygen saturation, for those born in extreme cold environments to withstand freezing conditions and for many humans the ability to ingest or tolerate cow's milk.
TED-Ed is the education initiative run by TED, the American nonprofit media organisation that spreads ideas by posting online talks for free.
Professor Hurst was approached by TED-Ed to do the project following an article he wrote in The Conversation about human evolution.
He was involved in all aspects of the project, including the video design, the music and writing the script for the voice over. He also helped prepare material for their online platform that will go alongside the animation.
He said: “As an evolutionary biologist, a question that I am often asked is whether humans are still evolving.
“I was delighted to be invited by the TED-Ed organisation to script and shape this animation to try and address this issue.
“Contained in the question is the idea that evolution is both something that happened a long time ago and that evolution is synonymous with natural selection.
“That is to say, if we could stop natural selection (which modern medicine attempts to do) that that will somehow stop the process of evolution.
“This animation was an opportunity to explain current thinking and breakthroughs regarding both issues.
“Our evolution cannot stop unless as a species we go extinct. No matter what, we are still mutating and if natural selection is diminished as a force, then that makes more room for alternative evolutionary processes, such as genetic drift.
“Perhaps most exciting are that recent breakthroughs in analysis of our genomes have shown evidence for very recent (last few thousand years) adaptations to the local environment by human populations.
“I hope this will give viewers a glimpse of some of the recent and ongoing discoveries.”
The animation was directed by Ouros Animation and The Animation Workshop, and narrated by Addison Anderson.