The genes that make humans distinct from other animals are being narrowed down. We have a lot in common with other mammals and especially other primates, but relatively tiny differences in a set of genes could explain how human language and intelligence evolved and developed. Understanding the complexity of human intelligence and genetics will likely take decades or longer — and we may never fully understand every aspect of consciousness. However, we’re making some progress and creating some smarter mice along the way. Check out a few of these experiments.
- Injecting human astrocytes (the most abundant cells found in the brain) into a mouse brain actually makes mice measurably smarter. This isn’t exactly the beginnings of the rats of NIMH, but the researchers are going to try rats next…. [url]
- Activating a certain gene called HARE5 (“human-accelerated regulatory enhancers”) leads to the development of bigger brains in humans — and perhaps other mammals like mice and chimpanzees. A mouse embryo treated with a human HARE5 sequence developed a 12% larger brain than a mouse embryo with a chimpanzee HARE5 gene. [url]
- Hundreds of mice have been genetically engineered to express the human version of the FOXP2 gene — a gene linked to speech and language. The resulting mice were able to learn a maze faster than control mice. And are you pondering what I’m pondering? [url]
- The ARHGAP11B gene could be a unique gene for developing modern humans’ massive neocortex. Adding this gene in mice gave them larger neocortices and brain folds (mice brains are usually tiny and smooth) — but the mice weren’t necessarily more intelligent. [url]
If you’d like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.