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Deleting Certain Gene Makes Mice Smarter 259

Posted by Soulskill
from the break-out-the-ribonucleic-scissors dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Deleting a certain gene in mice can make them smarter by unlocking a mysterious region of the brain considered to be relatively inflexible, scientists at Emory University School of Medicine have found. Mice with a disabled RGS14 gene are able to remember objects they'd explored and learn to navigate mazes better than regular mice, suggesting that RGS14's presence limits some forms of learning and memory."
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Deleting Certain Gene Makes Mice Smarter

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  • by mr_mischief (456295) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:17AM (#33625794) Journal

    I can haz turnkey upgrade for 50$?

    • by berzerke (319205) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:29AM (#33625850) Homepage

      Unfortunately it's likely not. Evolution or God (your choice) rarely gives something for nothing. This gene is likely there for a reason. Disabling it will have some drawback, and it may not be an obvious connection.

      I remember watching a show about genetics. They were talking about how humans have a genetic defect in a gene which governs the size of our jaw muscles. This defect means we bite with far less force than a chimp. But the show pointed out that a smaller jaw muscle, due to the physical attachments, allowed our skull to grow larger and with it our brain. Considering how well chimps are doing as compared to humans, I'd say the defect was actually a good thing.

      • by derGoldstein (1494129) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:37AM (#33626098) Homepage
        Evolution is causal. Just because a cause existed 50 million years ago, doesn't mean that it's there right now. I think that if we had the opportunity to *opt* for a larger (or more efficient) brain in exchange for higher energy consumption, most of us would do it. Humans have tamed the environment, and therefor we change our surroundings, rather than them changing us. We need to take the harness if we want to continue to improve ourselves, and the path of genetic modification seems the inevitable one.
        • by ultranova (717540)

          We need to take the harness if we want to continue to improve ourselves, and the path of genetic modification seems the inevitable one.

          Genetic modification still limits you to a body of flesh and blood. I'd say that mind uploading is the way to go. Apart from solving the problem of mortality, it would allow your mind to grow without worrying about the limits imposed by the size of your skull. And it only becomes a better bargain as we begin to expand into space.

        • by canajin56 (660655) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:27AM (#33627128)

          Evolution isn't causal. It's, well, non-anti-causal, which isn't quite the same thing. That is to say, traits don't evolve in response to things, stuff without appropriate traits gets wiped out by those things. The difference is key. A trait doesn't persist because it's an advantage, it persists because it's not a sufficiently bad disadvantage, which is a weaker constraint. In the context of TFA, a gene that makes mice "dumber" doesn't mean that the gene provides a hidden advantage that has a better tradeoff, and it doesn't mean that being dumb provided a big advantage. All it means is that being dumb wasn't a disadvantage. Or, at least, wasn't a disadvantage strong enough to hurt the mice's reproductive chances. Due to statistics, and something called "neutral drift", an allele that is "neutral" in that it doesn't result in a significant disadvantage to reproduction, has a fair chance at taking over a population, over enough time. Not that it will happen a lot. But, "fair" chance here means it's not vanishingly small.

          So, if a gene breaks comes into being that makes mice dumb, but being dumb doesn't stop them from finding food, evading predators, and having sex, then it's a neutral gene. So while not guaranteed to happen, there's nothing unusual about this gene becoming dominant, or in fact, part of the entire species. It certainly doesn't mean that it provides some sort of advantage as a trade-off. Genes that provide an advantage are much more likely to be passed on, until the entire species has it. But, ones that aren't strongly disadvantageous can be, too. All mammals have a gene that lets them make vitamin C. Some primates, including humans, have a broken version and so cannot produce vitamin C. That's because out ancestors ate mostly fruits and berries, which are full of vitamin C. So, when by chance we lost our ability to make it, it had no effect. This doesn't mean it provided a hidden disadvantage. It was simply not needed, so when it broke, natural selection did not kill animals who didn't have it.

          • by IICV (652597)

            Actually, it's very possible for an allele that provides a small negative impact to spread throughout a species, just due to pure luck. After all, evolution has no way of differentiating between someone who has very successful offspring and someone who has very lucky offspring, and occasionally the latter will occur. If it spreads widely enough, it will become entrenched in the species' gene pool, despite being deleterious.

            Also, it's not like evolution gets to pick perks and add stat points like in an RPG;

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            "In the context of TFA, a gene that makes mice "dumber" doesn't mean that the gene provides a hidden advantage that has a better tradeoff, and it doesn't mean that being dumb provided a big advantage. All it means is that being dumb wasn't a disadvantage. Or, at least, wasn't a disadvantage strong enough to hurt the mice's reproductive chances."

            Since it's a single gene, it's pretty likely that mice without that gene would have arisen at some time. Probably more than once. Assuming we don't usually see mic

      • by Greyfox (87712) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:01AM (#33626942) Homepage Journal
        It's probably hardwired to run away from cats or something. Unlocked, it might make the mice more curious or cause them to pause to assess the situation rather than just running. A split second could mean the difference between getting eaten and not getting eaten, so the hard-wired runners don't get eaten as much. Mice don't have to be a whole lot smarter to live as mice, but they do have to be pretty good at getting away from cats.
      • Unfortunately it's likely not. Evolution or God (your choice) rarely gives something for nothing. This gene is likely there for a reason. Disabling it will have some drawback, and it may not be an obvious connection.

        Dejumpering RGS14's apparently increases memory, the desire to tinker with things, reduces social ability, and keeps up glued to the interwebz. Slashdot lives on dejumpered RGS14 basement dwelling rodents already.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Surprising that noone noticed the reply titles "Re:Cool, it's like Intel Upgrade Service for a bra"
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by derGoldstein (1494129)
        Bras have no genome. The line did not compute, and therefor was ignored by the parser. Your parser is either set to "verbose", or "display all warnings".
        • But the title says Re:Cool, it's like Intel Upgrade Service for a bra and doesn't actually mention genes. I'd forgotten WTF the entire thread was about anyway and presumed Intel had somehow invented an upgrade so bras could have more mammary installed. ;)
    • Well, I'd say it remains to be seen if it's an upgrade or a downgrade. Forgetting stuff or needing more than one case to form a rule are there for a reason. If you met someone "upgraded" who upon seeing a yellow cat automatically forms the full connexion that all cats are yellow, and/or is unable to break that connexion afterwards, the thought would probably be less "upgraded" and more like "poor idiot".

      The general evolution of the brain has been towards smarter. Something which only needed a gene to break

      • You're saying that this particular gene modification may have an adverse effect, which is possible, but there are some general attributes that define how "smart" we are. If we found the gene/genes that regulate/s how much we can remember, in the "long term storage" part of the brain, and modified it/them so that we could remember, say, twice what we do now, it would probably lead to "being smarter". If we changed it so that we never forgot anything, it would lead to insanity. If we move slowly and cautiousl
        • by Moraelin (679338) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @08:00AM (#33626356) Journal

          Well, at least theoretically it's conceivable that it would be possible to do a better job with the regulating proteins than nature did. After all, nature itself did an increasingly better job by trial and error, and it would be presumptuous to presume that whatever we got is nothing short of absolute, unsurpassable perfection. So, yes, it's conceivable that one day someone would encode a better protein than that gene does.

          I'm not sure if we're at that point, yet, though. We know how to copy genes and we know how to break genes, but I don't think anyone really knows how to make a better one, or really even design one that only causes the effect to differ by a small amount.

          We're essentially like a clock maker who knows how to copy a cog or lever from another clock, or how to break one, but even designing a 10% smaller cog is well outside the realm of what he knows how to do. That's really the state of genetic engineering nowadays. Fortunately, we have billions of clocks and trillions of cogs to copy around us, which is why we can still do some useful stuff. But designing a new one is really still right out.

          So, yeah, it could happen. Given enough time, it probably _will_ happen. But if it needs to be more complicated than breaking or deleting or replacing that gene with one from a existing organism, I'm not holding my breath that it will happen in my lifetime.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by netjiro (632132)
            Genes mainly contain information on how the initial stage of protein construction should go. Protein design, engineering, improvement is not new. We have improved upon quite a few proteins, shooting for better functionality in one area or other, and that is done by "improving" the genetic code in one way or other.
          • by Krahar (1655029)
            No one should expect evolution to design an optimal anything - what evolution produces is usually pretty good and at the same time unnecessarily complex in our eyes. It's the unnecessary complexity that is making it difficult for us to improve on evolution, because we have to understand what is going on to do much and evolution does not. We don't understand in detail what is going on in the body, and that's the problem because then we have a very hard time predicting what a new protein will do. So we are re
    • I can haz turnkey upgrade for 50$?

      Sure. Althouhg, the push-button upgrade to give you the intelligence and dexterity to operate keys is a little more expensive...

    • And maybe the gene is there to limit the mouse brain from burning out too fast? It would be interesting to see if there were any differences in how long both groups live.

    • unlocking a mysterious region of the brain

      It's no mystery, obviously it's the upper multiplier. Probably just needed a Bios upgrade.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Compaqt (1758360)

      10 FOR X = 0 TO 65535
      20 POKE X, 0
      30 NEXT X

    • Be careful what you wish for. People with Hyperthymesia (total perfect memory) describe it as being "as non-stop, uncontrollable and totally exhausting." This could be the gene that locks that down and keeps us sane.

      http://www.physorg.com/news129561635.html [physorg.com]

  • Whats the odds (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rainmouse (1784278)
    Whats the odds that there are people quietly trying things like this on humans somewhere?
    • "Whats the odds that there are people quietly trying things like this on humans somewhere?"

      Given the race for military/economic supremacy - highly likely.

    • We know how this plays out already! Anyone remember NamTar [wikia.com], the genetic experiment that grew from a dumb, small creature into a mad scientist bent on perfecting its DNA?
    • Whats the odds that there are people quietly trying things like this on humans somewhere?

      1 in 0 if they aren't, 1 in 1 if they are... so the odds are 1:2.

    • 100%. They've found that deleting half an X chromosome makes one smarter.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Maybe, but they're probably not getting too far. Humans are a PITA as lab animals. They eat a lot, they're a pain to keep and they take forever to get to reproductive age, or even useful testing age.

  • Yeah! (Score:5, Funny)

    by SigILL (6475) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:24AM (#33625820) Homepage

    Yeah, let's make lab mice smarter! What could possibly go wrong?

  • by Filip22012005 (852281) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:26AM (#33625828)

    To call an inability to forget "smart" is a display of misunderstanding what learning actually is. Forgetting comes in many flavours, and while intuitively believe some forgetting may be related to "making more room", extinction learning is a rather finely-tuned mechanism of filtering relevant input from irrelevant input. Making that filter wider is hardly smart.

    • by zes (1544775) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:55AM (#33625958)
      Exactly. My first thought was savant. There seems to me to be a balance between how many details one remembers and how well one can create abstractions. People who are very good at abstract thinking are so because they throw away irrelevant details and remember the bigger picture. Their pattern matching has gone up a level if you will.
  • ...that Pinky & The Brain was fiction.

  • Hmmm (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:42AM (#33625898)

    I used to watch a documentary about this as a kid. Apparently this causes 50% of the mice to turn incredibly stupid, while the other 50% want to take over the world.

  • It may be reasonable to hypothesize that deleting the certain gene makes you smarter because it seems that with smart people, the more they know the less certain they become about what they know.
    • It may be reasonable to hypothesize that deleting the certain gene makes you smarter

      Think how smart you'd be if they deleted *all* your genes!

      • by srussia (884021)

        It may be reasonable to hypothesize that deleting the certain gene makes you smarter

        Think how smart you'd be if they deleted *all* your genes!

        I'm not so certain about that, but then again I'm not not certain about much of anything at all.

  • And adding certain genes to humans makes them more.. mentally handicapped..

  • A smarter Brain? But still not smart enough to take over the world...... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinky_and_the_Brain [wikipedia.org]
  • One is a genius
    The other's insane.
    They're laboratory mice
    Their genes have been spliced
    They're dinky
    They're Pinky and The Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
    Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain
    Brain.
  • Turns out (Score:5, Funny)

    by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:14AM (#33626020) Homepage Journal
    thats the gene responsible for creating sex drive. Without worrying about sex the mice can concentrate on solving mazes. The Seinfeld hypothesis is right(well for mice anyway, if it were right for humans I would be the smartest man on the planet :P)
  • Maybe (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    it only increases the ability to recognize objects and navigate mazes (visual memory), but hurts other brain activities (reflexes, creativity, thoughts). Navigating mazes isn't really a trait that mice evolved towards.

    • by mikael (484)

      In the wild, mice live in tunnels under tree roots and in hills. House mice have adapted to living with humans and taken advantage of the warmth provided by human dwellings. Either way, they have to remember where food and water can be found, and the safest places to sleep.

      Just about every creature with a hypothalamus (where route memories are stored, as well as being wired to the vision and audio pathways) will be able to remember all these things.

    • by eulernet (1132389)

      Also, I don't understand why they link memory to intelligence.

      As you know, there are a lot of different memory types, like visual, auditory or abstract memory (we can observe the specialized memories in autistic people).

      Disabling the gene might increase the visual memory, to the detriment of the other ones, like having autistic mice.
      In other words, the mice might be able to exit a maze, but not be able to locate their natural enemies by their ears or whatever sense they use.

    • by tomhath (637240)
      I suspect that suppressing memories makes the animal more able to adapt to changes in their environment. Losing less important memories means you are more likely to explore a place, even if you've been there before.
  • by Boghog (910236)
    Inhibiting the RGS14 gene product could be counter productive and in fact dangerous. While this strategy may enhance visual memory, it also may decrease hippocampal-based learning and memory: RGS14 [wikipedia.org]
  • More evidence that high intelligence is pathological in a species and that nature actually works to suppress the development of intelligence beyond a certain rudimentary level. Look how long dinosaurs ruled the Earth without intelligence. Understand how long they had to develop it and did not. Humans somehow got off the reservation a couple of hundred thousand years ago. Not only did we develop vast intelligence, but we developed abilities that ANTICIPATED the need for them. Why did we develop the ability t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vadim_t (324782)

      More evidence that high intelligence is pathological in a species and that nature actually works to suppress the development of intelligence beyond a certain rudimentary level.

      I wouldn't say that. It's more like there's a tradeoff: A bigger brain needs more energy to keep it working. If you're doing fine with a small one, there's no selective pressure in favour of a bigger one.

      Look how long dinosaurs ruled the Earth without intelligence. Understand how long they had to develop it and did not.

      There was no ne

    • by n dot l (1099033)

      Not only did we develop vast intelligence, but we developed abilities that ANTICIPATED the need for them.

      Poor choice of words, that, but I have wondered roughly the same thing for quite some time, now.

      Why did we develop the ability to drive 60, 70,-100 miles per hour or more while weaving in and out of traffic?

      OK, this is a bad example. We drive 60, 70,-100 miles per hour because that happens to be what our cars can safely operate at when driven by a creature with our reaction speeds. If we had the reflexes of a cat, we'd be driving faster.

      But you do raise an interesting point, and I'd like to point it out for anyone that might miss it because of that bad example: our intelligence predates our use of it by a very large

  • ...with their unlimited learning and memory.

    Haven't we always known they ran the world anyway? [wikipedia.org]

    Just my 42 cents... ;-)
  • cheesy overlords? No. No! I did NOT mean Christine O'Donnell. Really.

  • did any one see deep blue sea where they mess with sharks genes and made them smarter?

  • There really is a "stupid gene."
  • But I thought that mice were already the most intelligent life on Earth :-)

    • by Cylix (55374) *

      You are confusing space mice with earth mice.

      This is actually the origin story for the secrets of nym.

      What people haven't realized is that with sufficient motivation the mice can produce telekinetic abilities.

  • This is hardly the first report that increasing or decreasing the expression of certain genes in the mouse can improve performance on certain laboratory tests of intelligence. However, these tests are very regimented and simplistic compared to the complex cognitive demands that a mouse encounters in the wild. The investigators used two standard tests of cognition: novel object recognition (does the animal remember an object that it has seen before, as judged by how interested it is in examining it?) and the

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