Andrei Shcherbak is an adherent of the theory of socio-biological evolution, according to which both the biological and social evolution of humanity can influence each other via changes in the human genotype. In other words, social changes engender genetic changes which, in turn, influence the next phase of social evolution.
A great deal of research has shown that changes in particular aspects of societal life can provoke the genotype to evolve in such a way that it is better suited to these social conditions, Shcherbak noted. For example, in the past, the human genotype must have been better suited to dealing with surviving in the ‘feast or famine’ cycle, when a hunter-gathering lifestyle provided people with a sufficiency of food, for at least a short period.
Today, when we have year-round bounty, the human genotype needs to adapt to these new conditions. However, since biological evolution is an extremely slow process, we continue to see a breakdown in this metabolic change that leads to illnesses such as diabetes and obesity.
In addition, there are several other pieces of work that have shown that urbanization in the major cities of the ancient world sparked a series of changes in the human genotype, increasing his resistance to infectious diseases (such as, for example, TB or leprosy).
In moving to a settled, landowning, life, population density and mobility both increased, and developing trade led to an increase in the prevalence of disease. In turn, as a result of natural selection, some of these alleles (different types of the same gene) with greater disease resistance, increased in the human genotype.
Andrei Shcherbak’s work confirms the results of previous studies, showing that there is a strong correlation between the urbanization level of 17 key ancient populated areas and the spread of infectious disease. There was a positive correlation between the number of cities, the population size in the region, and also the spread of the nine main infectious diseases.
At the same time, there is virtually no research into the impact of biological evolution on social changes. The work that exists chiefly shows the influence of human genes on individual socially oriented character traits (e.g. altruism).
Andrei Shcherbak carried out one of the first pieces of research trying to understand how the frequency of alleles responsible for alcohol metabolism (Arg48His) is related to a population’s ethnicity and the likelihood of this ethnicity to become colonized by Europeans.
European colonization really got underway at the beginning of the 15th century. Over the following 400 years, the Old World sought colonized America, Australia, much of Africa and Eurasia.
Alcohol was one of the main European imports to these future colonies. For example, in the late 18th century alcohol use in West Africa reached 24 litres per year. In the 19th century, in some African countries (Nigeria, South Africa) saw alcohol start to be used as money. According to some estimates, over 300 years of the Atlantic slave trade, 5-10% of slaves were acquired from the profits gleaned through exporting alcohol.
Alcohol was one of the main exports from the Old World to North America. The local Indian population were virtually teetotal. As a result of their genotype’s inability to metabolize alcohol, the Indians quickly became dependent. Consequently, death from alcohol abuse grew exponentially, and the local population was caught in trade dependency, exchanging land, furs, and other goods for strong liquor.
Alcohol metabolism is linked with a particular expression of gene Arg48His. The more Arg48His alleles there are in the population, the smaller the risk that alcohol dependency will arise, and the lower the alcohol consumption (according to the author’s calculations, there is a negative correlation between alcohol use and Arg48His frequency in 63 countries).
Andrei Shcherbak carried out a selection of 56 nationalities (33 in Asia, 6 in Africa, 9 in Europe, 2 in Oceania and 6 in North America). On the basis of this regressional analysis he showed that there is a negative correlation between the likelihood of an ethnic group being colonized in the period 1500 to 1900 by the main powers of that time (England, Russia, Spain, Portugal, France, Sweden and the United States) and the frequency of the z Arg48His allele among the population. Information on the Arg48His allele was taken from contemporary statistics based on the low speed of biological evolution.
Therefore the likelihood of an ethnic group being colonized was lower wherever the genotype was able to counter the effects of alcohol dependence. Hence the conclusion, that biological evolution’s particular features make it possible for society to have a significant influence on its future social development.
In addition, Andrei Shcherbak identified a series of additional results that are of interest for further study. In most specific models the likelihood of an ethnic group being colonized is lower where there is a higher level of technological development, and lower the more frequently an ethnic group had suffered infectious disease; and higher where there was a larger mutual trade in alcohol.
In his work, the author takes his research on the interaction between social sciences and biology to a new level: he shows that it is not only social evolution that is able to effect changes in the human genotype, but the human genotype is also able to predetermine the future social development of a people or ethnic group.