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Question Video: Explaining Why Evolutionary Biologists May Want to Study the Human Genome Biology

Evolutionary biologists are scientists that study how living things have evolved, changed, or gone extinct over time. Which of the following best explains why an evolutionary biologist might want to study the human genome? [A] To compare the human genome to the genomes of other animals and determine how related we are to them. [B] To accurately predict how and when the genes in the human genome will mutate. [C] To disprove the theory of evolution by natural selection. [D] To create a genetically engineered, more advanced human species.

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Video Transcript

Evolutionary biologists are scientists that study how living things have evolved, changed, or gone extinct over time. Which of the following best explains why an evolutionary biologist might want to study the human genome? (A) To compare the human genome to the genomes of other animals and determine how related we are to them. (B) To accurately predict how and when the genes in the human genome will mutate. (C) To disprove the theory of evolution by natural selection. Or (D) to create a genetically engineered, more advanced human species.

Our question tells us that evolutionary biologists study how organisms evolve and change over time. They also look at the evolutionary relationships between different organisms, asking questions such as “How long ago did various groups or taxa diverge from a common ancestor?” They may also investigate which genes are conserved or mostly unchanged throughout the evolution of species.

One species that evolutionary biologists may be particularly interested in is Homo sapiens. You likely already know that this is the scientific binomial name for humans. Comparing the genome of humans to the genomes of other organisms can reveal our evolutionary history. For example, genetic sequencing has allowed us to establish that humans and chimpanzees have a higher degree of genetic similarity than do humans and gorillas. This means that humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor more recently than humans and gorillas or chimpanzees and gorillas.

Many experiments in biology, behavioral psychology, and other related fields cannot be conducted on humans for ethical reasons. Instead, scientists use model organisms, such as rats or monkeys, as the research subjects. When choosing model organisms, it is important for the researchers to understand their evolutionary relationship to humans.

Knowledge of the key genes that have been conserved or changed is also critical when applying the results of these types of studies. For instance, we know that research conducted on a monkey would be more directly applicable to humans than research conducted on rats because we have more genes in common with monkeys than we do with rats.

Now, let’s return to our question. The word “best” tells us that more than one of the answer options could be correct. But we need to find the one that most completely and accurately explains why an evolutionary biologist might want to study the human genome. After reviewing the connection between genetics, evolutionary relationships, and experimental design, we can see that the correct answer is (A). An evolutionary biologist might want to study the human genome to compare it to the genomes of other animals and determine how related we are to them.

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