Scientists are one step closer to understanding the genetic difference between human and chimpanzee brain development. They isolated a stretch of DNA, once thought to be “junk”, near a gene that regulates brain development. Then they added that DNA – either the human or the chimp version – to mouse embryos. Lo and behold, the mouse brains with human DNA were 12% bigger than mouse brains with chimpanzee DNA.
Eventually, work like this could generate a list of DNA sequences that give a brain some capabilities that are characteristically human. That could be important for understanding what goes wrong in diseases of the brain.
As for the ethics of such experiments:
An experiment like this recent one is not going to create mice that talk and think like people. But it could be more ethically worrisome to try to genetically enhance the brains of nonhuman primates or other reasonably intelligent animals — like pigs.
Image: Silver Lab/Duke University