Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Biotech Science

15 Mutations Resulted In Increased Brain Size 193

Posted by timothy
from the goes-the-theory dept.
naoursla writes "Researchers at the University of Chicago think they have identified 15 mutations in a gene responsible for brain development that gave humans abilities of abstract thought and planning. The article is at Discover. They plan to insert the gene into mice to 'to see what affect it has on brain development.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

15 Mutations Resulted In Increased Brain Size

Comments Filter:
  • by gavinroy (94729) * on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:19PM (#8522262) Homepage
    It doesnt seem too far fetched now does it? How long until global mouse domination?
  • by smack_attack (171144) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:22PM (#8522316) Homepage
    The result of the experiment? 42.
  • by TheLink (130905) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:25PM (#8522365) Journal
    Big brains in small skulls might not be such a good idea...
    • by Otter (3800) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:44PM (#8522627) Journal
      Remember, infant primates (I think it's not just humans) have extremely plastic skulls with distinct pieces that eventually fuse. You're right that over time skulls (and women's pelvises) would need to change to reflect the larger brains, but there is plenty of flexibility to quickly acomodate small, beneficial increases in brain size.

      (Glad to see Bruce's career taking off, by the way. I used to work down the hall from him and he's an extremely smart, creative guy and a phenomenally hard worker.)

      • But still the increase in skull size can result in increased probability of death for both the infant and the mother during the birthing process. This is one of the main reasons why humans do not have astronomically large craniums. Unless there is a way nature/humans can allow for the growth of larger craniums, we will remain as smart as we are now.
        • Unless the female pelvis enlarges to account for the increased skull size.

          Also note that our intelligence is not directly proportional to the simple size of our skull.

          It's got a lot more to do with the types of neuron connections that are possible than with the bulk quantity of neurons in general.

          IANAN: I Am Not A NeuroScientist

        • But still the increase in skull size can result in increased probability of death for both the infant and the mother during the birthing process. This is one of the main reasons why humans do not have astronomically large craniums. Unless there is a way nature/humans can allow for the growth of larger craniums, we will remain as smart as we are now.

          Read an article a few months back on exactly this - that the size of the hole in a woman's pelvis is the limiting factor on brain growth. He then suggested tha

        • I don't think we need to worry about human pelvis sizes. Even if the mice skulls are a hundred times larger, the humans that are being used as host wombs should have no problem birthing the mice.
  • by jon787 (512497) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:26PM (#8522375) Homepage Journal
    "These creatures you call mice, you see, they are not quite as they appear. They are merely the protrusion into our dimension of vast hyperintelligent pandimensional beings. The whole business with the cheese and the squeaking is just a front."
    -- Slartibartfast, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
  • by blamanj (253811) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:29PM (#8522425)
    Here I am, with the brain the size of human, trapped in the body of a rodent.

    I'm sure it would be quite depressing.

    (Apologies to DNA.)
  • by georgewad (154339)
    a beowulf cluster of uber mice
  • Only 15? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar (714234) * on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:37PM (#8522546) Journal
    "Lahn found that the ASPM gene in humans has undergone 15 important mutations since we last shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees, about 5 million years ago."

    One would think that the asymmetric laterality associated with language would be one of the important "human" mutations. It's not. Chimps have the same sort of asymmetry as humans in the "language" area of the brain: 'Demonstration of a human-like asymmetry of Wernicke's brain language area homolog in chimpanzee planum temporale.' (Gannon, et al., 1998). I suspect there's going to be far more than 15 mutations required to explain things, going back much, much farther than 5 million years.
    • Re:Only 15? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @02:04PM (#8522877) Journal
      Many asymmetric functions of the brain could be due to very general mutations:

      "Left side, build neurons with branches closer to the nucleus."

      "Right side, build neurons with branches further from the nucleus."

      Neurons on the left side of your brain are more likely to be linked to nearby neurons than the right side. Neurons on the right side of your brain are more likely to have far away links.

      Left brain semantic functions associate words like "warm" and "cold". Right brain language functions associate words like "warm" and "orange" (a warm color).

      Er, maybe that's a bad example. I wish I still had access to my college's journal subscriptions.

      Anyway. I'm sure there are genes that have given our brains specific asymmetrical capabilities, but my (limited!) understanding of the subject leads me to believe that that most asymmetrical capabilities of the brain are due to a very general difference in neuron branching.

      And all this only really makes sense in the 90% of people that are left-brain "dominant". It very nicely explains why we're more dextrous with our right hands.

      (Wait... I don't know how this relates to your comment anymore. I'm sorry :)
      • What about those of us who are ambidextrous?
        Of course I am also a computer geek who can talk to interior decorators and enjoys shopping with the GF, so maybe I'm just "overdeveloped". :)
        • What about those of us who are ambidextrous?

          Reminds me of a story my father-in-law (a doctor) tells of his medical student days. He was putting in some stitches with the suture needle in his left hand. After a few stitches, it was more convenient do it with his right hand. Supervising physician notices the switch and angrily says something like: "what are you doing? do you think you're ambidextrous?" FIL replies "no, actually, I'm right-handed".

          (Then of course there's the fencing scene between Inig
    • There is one major problem with his findings. Macro-evolution has never been proven. That is no one has ever been able to prove that you get a completely different species from a given species. In all the millions of fruit fly generations produce, they have never produced a new species! They should first work on proving macro-evolution.
  • by Rufus88 (748752) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:39PM (#8522563)
    root# diff gwbush_genome.map jdoe_genome.map
  • by tka (548076)
    ..what happens then? Mices learn to think and you kill'em as soon as you get the results?
    • That's a good question. How far can you experiment manner can you do until you're effectively experimenting upon a thinking being, a sentient being (in the sci-fi sense)? How close can you elevate a species to our thinking capacity before you must treat them as equals and no longer experiment? (The point where they launch an organized rebellion against you (Planet of the Apes) is a bit late.)

      Not that I'm against animal experimentation. That's not where I want to take the discussion.
      • When they start working on a Debigulator, _that's_ when it's time to stop. And crush them. Damned Lutherans.
      • The mutations in primates produced us (apparently), by increasing brain size. However, primates already had fairly large brains, so a 50% increase (or whatever it is) leads to many extra brain cells. Mice have very small brains to start with, so even if they get 50% bigger they are very unlikely to become anywhere near human intelligence. However, the next logical step is to perform these experiments on chimps and try and repeat evolution. That could cause serious ethical issues.
        • Dude, you just described an episode of The Lone Gunmen, called Planet Of The Frohikes (or: A Short History Of My Demeaning Captivity).

          You know? The one with the chimp who knows how to operate a laptop running Linux?
  • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:40PM (#8522582)
    Let's just hope the experimental subjects don't look at the writing on their cages and comprehend.
    • My thoughts exactly. I loved that book as a kid.
    • I was also thinking of NIHM when I read this. Good book, good movie (well translated to the screen, IMO, including the fuzzing over of the science). Wish there was a comparable book to the second movie (which was dreck). I could see a good book sequal out of that. Kinda like ET; excellent sequal in the book.

      --
      Evan "Genetic engineering, yay!"

  • Uh oh (Score:4, Funny)

    by Chester K (145560) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:41PM (#8522594) Homepage
    They plan to insert the gene into mice to 'to see what affect it has on brain development.

    Pinky: What are we going to do tonight?

    The Brain: Same thing we do every night... try to take over the world!
  • by Justin Ames (582967) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @01:53PM (#8522732)
    They may want to look at the genetic mutations of dolphins and find out what made them have such a large brain, and be so intelligent that all that they do is swim in the water, eat fish and play around, whereas we build cars and buildings, and start wars.
    • by b-baggins (610215) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @02:33PM (#8523243) Journal
      Or why human midgets can have a brain size smaller than a chimpanzee and still have a genius IQ.

      I think brain size is probably the least important determiner of human intelligence.
      • I hope that most people's brains would be smaller than chimpanzees!
    • by emaveneau (552950) * on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @03:39PM (#8523983)
      They may want to look at the genetic mutations of dolphins and find out what made them have such a large brain, and be so intelligent that all that they do is swim in the water, eat fish and play around, whereas we build cars and buildings, and start wars.
      The Swedish scientist Lars Terenius, one of the discoverers of endorphins, may have already answered that question.
      He suggested that humans might be the only species on the planet lacking enough chemicals in their brains to keep them happy.

      Just as people are tempted to drink and take drugs in search of euphoria, so too might they scale mountains, build skyscrapers or pen theories on the laws of the universe if the sense of accomplishment unleashed euphoria-producing brain chemicals. Lower species, meanwhile, would remain content to huddle in their twigs and bushes generation after generation.

      Page 143. Possessing Genius: The true account of the Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein's Brain. Carolyn Abraham, 2001, Penguin. ISBN 014029368X.
      Our disposition to be unhappy makes us out compete everything else. Other species are happy and only seek survival.

      BTW: Great book. Covers what happened to his brain post autopsy. Full of neuro knowledge and witticisms.

  • Now, is it possible to exercise a gene?
  • Just wait until they bump into Mrs. Frisby [amazon.com]. Never thought I'd see that childhood book come to life in my lifetime.
  • by fm6 (162816) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @02:43PM (#8523350) Homepage Journal
    Bruce Sterling wrote a very funny story along these lines, called "Our Neural Chernobyl". In his story, the virus used to transport the genes escapes (naturally!), but doesn't actually turn out to be much of a problem for people, except for creating a few navel-gazers. (This goes with a constant theme of Sterling's, that raw intelligence is an overrated commodity.) But the fun begins when the virus jumps to other species. So you get racoons that learn to pick locks, coyotes that organize protection rackets against ranchers, etc. Collected here [amazon.com].

  • I look forward to serving our mouse overlords, and want to let them know that I would be excellent at supervising the cheese factories.
  • NIMH (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Space (13455)
    as in the rats of?
  • by glassesmonkey (684291) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @04:18PM (#8524383) Homepage Journal
    Why doesn't some of the more contraversial scientists (human-cloning, clone-of-clone cloners, Clone-Aid wackos) take some other mammals (dogs or chimpanzees) and re-create these dozen or so mutations?!

    The implication are staggering. Now that people are buying glow-in-the-dark fish I would really think there would be a market for these mutants. I just hope they don't start with mice, rats, or squirrels.
    • no one would allow those experiments on dogs, because dogs are "cute", to paraphrase Dennis Leary ripping off Bill Hicks.

      And doing those experiments on monkeys would make people afraid of Planet of the Apes becoming a reality.
  • by cpu_fusion (705735) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @05:07PM (#8524989)
    If we splice the genes into a human to give us characteristics of animals, would we call the result a human?

    What if we give ourselves hooves? Wings? Erase the capacity for language? At what point do "human rights" cease to apply?

    If we splice the genes of a human into an animal, would we call the result a human?

    What if we give it human-like limbs, a human heart, or a human mind? At what point do "human rights" begin to apply?

    Interesting times are ahead of us my friends, and that can be considered a curse.

    (By animal, I'm thinking non-human, and I realize that is a rather debatable definition.)

    • Steve Grand explores many interesting questions of life and intelligence in his book "Creation: Life and How To Make It" [amazon.com]. The problem with modifying live beings is that there is a point where experiments have to end because ethics kick in - even more so in experiments with humans rather than animals.

      Even if we found genes to evolve our own intellect, we would have to fight many battles and wars to be allowed to make our children brighter.

      However, digital life may well sneak past all legistlation and sur

  • by cpu_fusion (705735) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @05:12PM (#8525060)
    Word is, they've spliced human brain capacity into snakes [sco.com], 800-pound gorillas [microsoft.com], and dinosaurs [riaa.com].
  • by Orne (144925) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @05:54PM (#8525566) Homepage
    I'm surprised noone's made any comments how this resembles the background of David Brin's "Uplift" saga... that humankind cracks the secret of intelligence through genetics, and passes the gift on to his fellow species.

    What gets me is, once we realize that we *can* make our fellow creatures intelligent (or should I say, self-aware), then what? It is ethically immoral (to me) to then kill them, yet it is unfair to the self-aware critter to say "we were only doing this to see if we could, you're the last, sorry".

    Oh well, I gotta get back to work.
  • They plan to insert the gene into mice to 'to see what affect it has on brain development.'
    Pinky: Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?
    Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky...

    Try to take over the world!

    NARF!
  • Yay (Score:2, Funny)

    by darllikesdong (746669)
    Can't wait till I start seeing this in my inbox: Enlarge your brain! 100% natural. Safe and effective!

What this country needs is a good five dollar plasma weapon.

Working...