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Did a Genome Copying Mistake Lead To Human Intelligence? 381

Posted by samzenpus
from the happy-accidents dept.
A new study suggests that the sophistication of the human brain may be due to a mistake in cell division long ago. From the article: "A copyediting error appears to be responsible for critical features of the human brain that distinguish us from our closest primate kin, new research finds. When tested out in mice, researchers found this 'error' caused the rodents' brain cells to move into place faster and enabled more connections between brain cells."
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Did a Genome Copying Mistake Lead To Human Intelligence?

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  • Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:08AM (#39914059)

    Isnt this the whole point of evolution?

  • Evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by uarch (637449) on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:08AM (#39914065)
    In other words... Human intelligence is the result of evolution. Shocking. I sure hope there was more to this study that the submitter simply failed to mention...
  • by YttriumOxide (837412) <yttriumox@@@gmail...com> on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:09AM (#39914067) Homepage Journal
    Isn't that somewhat the expected process of evolution in general? Genetic mistake happens; proves to actually be useful to reproduction/beating the competition (as opposed to the vast majority that are either useless or detrimental); and then due to being in the most successful breeders, becomes "standard".
  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dBLiSS (513375) <theking54 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:13AM (#39914087) Journal

    Agreed. The use of the word "mistake" implies that there was some sort of intelligence designing the genome and it make a mistake. This just sounds like "random mutation + natural selection = evolution". No need to call it a "mistake"

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:15AM (#39914099)

    The only "point" of evolution is survival. Evolution does not lead towards more intelligent creatures unless intelligence itself better ensures survival. There are many cases of evolution leading to simpler or dumber creatures that have other traits that give them an edge in their environment. It's not a thinking, planning system.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:17AM (#39914115) Journal
    There is a pretty significant difference between the (well supported but rather vague) hypothesis that human intelligence is the result of some mutation(s) in our evolutionary history and a hypothesis about a specific mutation, of a specific type(there are a number of distinct types of copying errors that tend to occur, and obviously plenty of different locations for them to occur within the genome), with a demonstration that that particular tweak makes for a notable change in the neurons of an animal model...
  • by erroneus (253617) on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:19AM (#39914125) Homepage

    Sorry, the articles on copyright and intellectual property still have me spinning a little. Something out there was making genome copies which are not legitimate and the result is there for all to see. If people didn't get so smart, there wouldn't be so much copying going on either.

    Okay, okay, more on topic. The crowd is already saying "it's evolution." Okay, let's just get this behind us, "DUH!" Okay, that was short for "yes, they are explaining that evolution led to the changes which produced humans and human intelligence. But you are seeing the forest and forgetting to notice the trees. What aspects and details of human evolution have had striking results? One of many answers is this thing that happened which enabled the brain to grow in complexity and power."

    Now that said, there are lots more. I think one of the more interesting details is that our eyes show white in the corners so that other people can see what we are looking at. That's huge in terms of human communication. There are lots of things in human evolution which have led us to where we are today. But if one were to go back to a single thing -- a single point of divergence -- it might be the one in the article.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:20AM (#39914131)

    Maybe animals "Uplifted" to human levels of intelligence won't be to far away..?

  • Re:Evolution (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Barsteward (969998) on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:24AM (#39914167)
    Animals are already at the level of Ted Haggard, Jerry Fullwell, Creationists et al..
  • Re:Evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:25AM (#39914181)

    Way to miss the point completely.

  • Obvious? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:28AM (#39914205)

    That over a billion years a cascade of screwups was responsible for making everything? That for as long as the universe has been kicking around and as big as it's managed to get, we've yet to see the faintest signs of this happening on any other planet?

    I'd hardly call it obvious. Actually, "intelligent design" is engineered to be the more "obvious" theory, to make it easier to sell. And the farther we get away from teaching creative thinking, the scientific method, and mathematics, the easier it'll be for concepts like intelligent design to take root.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:35AM (#39914257)

    Oh it's not *that* hard to come up with a scenario of some kind, if you really have to believe for some reason.

    Some people call these copy errors a "bug", God calls it a "feature". Add a dash of natural selection, and you've got a self-maintaining and self-optimizing system for life to diversify and adapt. None of this having to re-create a whole bunch of things when extinction happens. We're talking low maintenance. The "lazy man's" creation. Like a garden that grows and trims itself. Beautiful really.

    But if you mean a scheme where God says *poof* and life is created perfectly all at once, yeah, that's utterly ridiculous. Like believing in a flat Earth or phlogiston.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DThorne (21879) on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:36AM (#39914265)

    Actually, there is a pretty good reason to call it a 'mistake'. You get more press.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pollardito (781263) on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:36AM (#39914271)
    It's a mistake because an error was made in the process of transcribing genes between DNA strands. The mechanism failed in its task, no matter whether that mechanism itself was designed or evolved
  • Re:Evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Monday May 07, 2012 @08:54AM (#39914399) Homepage

    Alternate headline: Did a Genome Copying Mistake Lead To Arms and Legs in Humans?

    Answer: Yes - genome copying mistakes lead to everything in humans.

  • by JerkBoB (7130) on Monday May 07, 2012 @09:13AM (#39914539)

    Nearly 90 posts, and no Flowers for Algernon reference yet? Illiterate bastards.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ferzerp (83619) on Monday May 07, 2012 @09:17AM (#39914581)

    Well, not exactly. Copying mistake suggests a meiosis or mitosis failure. However, there is also the potential for DNA to be altered and then copied accurately.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jappus (1177563) on Monday May 07, 2012 @09:26AM (#39914639)

    You seem to have heard that our improved understanding of genetics and other details of inheritance mean that Darwin's ideas have to be flawed because they did not yet contain this understanding; much like Newton's theories were supplanted by Einstein's and his in turn by parts of Quantum Theory.

    But this is neither strictly not loosely true. Newton's theories are flawed, because they indeed overlooked an integral property of physical reality. Its formulas simply lead to values that are not correct in our universe. But, and here's the important difference to Darwin's theory of Natural Selection: Darwin never stated any formulas leading to precise predictions. He never explained the principle driving the changes needed by Natural Selection.

    What he did was more subtle. He looked at the world and identified the obvious end-result: Species change, compete, cause their predecessors to perish (or change) and then finally perish themselves. Species are not static and unchanging. Instead, each organism is different from the one it sprung forth from. Given enough time, these subtle changes lead to large differences; so large that you'd not immediately see that they are related.

    As such, Darwin's point was that Variations, Families, Races and Species are just "grouping terms". They fluidly flow into each other. Small individual changes lead to large cross-species differences.

    This point is clearly not flawed. It is quite obviously true, if you look at the historical record and current progress. And that is his entire theory. He never stated what the principle behind the system was, as he could only suspect, not prove. This, he left for later generations. He freely admitted that, if no such system could be found, that his theory would have a huge problem. Thankfully, modern biological sciences has found this principle in all its differentiated glory from genetics, epigenetics, vertical and horizontal inheritance, retro-viral modification, genetic absorption, etc. pp. So instead of not accepting his model, they actually and knowingly vindicated it!

    Of course, some of Darwin's larger speculations turned out to be wrong, but these were not the core of his theory of Natural Selection and clearly labeled by him as pretty much unsubstantiated speculation. Just go ahead and read "The Origin of Species" and you will see how careful Darwin was by stating exactly what could break his actual theories' back, which points he though could be proven beyond doubt and which are more doubtful.

    So, tl;dr: His theory is actually vindicated by modern science; but it's not the theory of evolution but the theory of natural selection, as these two are quite distinct beasts.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Monday May 07, 2012 @09:26AM (#39914641)

    Got to change them all to get actual speech.

    And then on the other side of the coin, you have many birds that quite clearly have the required physiology for human-style speech, but haven't evolved the mental faculties.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msauve (701917) on Monday May 07, 2012 @09:34AM (#39914707)
    "The only "point" of evolution is survival."

    No, the only point of evolution is successful reproduction. It makes no difference how long you survive. If your genes aren't passed to offspring, any evolutionary change you may have had dies with you. Likewise, it makes no difference if you die after producing self-sustaining offspring - your contribution to the gene pool carries on.
  • Re:Evolution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jbengt (874751) on Monday May 07, 2012 @09:39AM (#39914749)

    A "task" assumes a goal, which is a concept that only makes sense in the context of an intelligent agent.

    A rather narrow definition. I would say that cell division includes the task of gene replication, e.i.making a copy, even if there is no intelligent agent directing the copying toward a purpose.

    Here, the mechanism just is; an inexact copy is no less valid than an exact copy.

    Tell that to the parents of a child with cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, or muscular dystrophy.

  • The only "point" of evolution is survival. Evolution does not lead towards more intelligent creatures unless intelligence itself better ensures survival.

    Exactly. This is the thing that always puzzles me about many people's pondering of extraterrestrial life. No doubt there's plenty of it out there --nothing about that seems very unlikely, but there doesn't seem to be any overwhelming requirement for sentient intelligence. Look what a good run the dinosaurs had without understanding how to build a fire or use an iPhone. Seems like the best meeting of Drake and Occam, IMHO.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KiloByte (825081) on Monday May 07, 2012 @09:55AM (#39914883)

    You don't matter, meatbag. Only your genes do. You're merely a tool used by them to survive. And reproduction proven to be a far better survival strategy than having a single host live forever.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2012 @10:04AM (#39914971)

    There you go, down-modded in retribution fueled by christian love... You've hurt some fundamentalist's feeling by insulting his invisible friend and fundraisers (who need to live really well, because that's what Sky Daddy would want most).

    You need to remember, when addressing creationists, that they were created in a puff of magic that we can never, ever comprehend (Unlike electricity, heavier-than-air flight, computers, etc. But if god said he had a hand in those, they would also have to become magical). We need to all play along with their delusions --especially when they institute their beliefs into christian versions of Shaira law or stifle scientists trying to increase our understanding of the world. For the good of all mankind, we should quietly accept their worldview, right?

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday May 07, 2012 @10:08AM (#39915019) Journal
    A cynical observer noting the noble progress of technology in service of the defense industries might say the same of humans, only dumber and less cute...
  • Re:Evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tompaulco (629533) on Monday May 07, 2012 @10:43AM (#39915351) Homepage Journal
    There you go, down-modded in retribution fueled by christian loveBR> No, downmodded because the GP decided to insult a group of people by comparing them to animals. Do you not suppose that GP would have gotten downmodded if he has made the same remark about black people? Or Mexicans? Or any other group of people?
  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Prune (557140) on Monday May 07, 2012 @11:15AM (#39915653)
    I think that is an important point, and it's not so much intelligence per se, but complexity itself. Single-cell organisms are the pinnacle of evolutionary success on Earth, whether measured by biomass, numbers, adaptability, and spread throughout every environmental niche. They're just complex enough to be alive, and not much more. Intracellular processes are far more optimized than the larger scale functions of multicellular organisms--in many cases, certain cellular processes are provably optimal in terms of energy use. This level of optimization on a multicellular organism probably would take longer than the lifetime of most stars.

    Beyond this, once sufficient intelligence appears on some world, technology is almost inevitable if the species continues existence long enough (though I imagine some would disagree). The problem with technology is that it magnifies the fundamental asymmetry between the difficulty of creation and ease of destruction. In our own case it is clear that advanced technology enables an ever smaller group to destroy an ever larger portion of people; in the limit, eventually a single person will be able to destroy all of humanity. Reactive protections against such disaster is always at a significant disadvantage and it only has to fail once for all to be lost. The alternative, pervasive monitoring of every individual at all times without exception also brings issues (I mean beyond the ideological issues of freedom), in that it creates a much more highly integrated social system, and large complex systems are prone to catastrophic failure, as discussed, funny enough, in a slashdot article not long ago. I would be surprised if there is still civilization 500 years from now.

    Keep in mind the old argument that galactic colonization is an exponential process, as each colony sends out a ship, the expansion rate grows. Even with each colony sending out ships at a fairly low constant rate, say every 500 years, it only takes a few million years to colonize the whole galaxy. Yet this clearly has not happened, even though intelligence would have to have arisen only once. With the two major factors I listed above, I don't think the first one alone is sufficient to decimate the chance of this happening as much. It's more likely than not that, given the sheer number of planets in the galaxy, intelligence has appeared before on occasion. But couple in the second factor, and the likelihood is that no one has made it far into space.
  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DM9290 (797337) on Monday May 07, 2012 @11:54AM (#39916143) Journal

    The only thing Darwin missed was a method of heredibility. That is a flaw, no doubt, but as Stephen R. Gould wrote, the overarching theory still works. The Modern Synthesis is just Darwinian selection married to genetics. In other words, both complement the other.

    He didn't claim to have found the actual method of inheritability. He didn't miss it, he had no evidence upon which to build a hypothesis and he pointed this out. The word "flaw" is inappropriate. Recognizing the gaps in knowledge that remain after drawing all the conclusions that the evidence suggests, and leaving suggestions to others for future investigation is one of the beauties of science. It is not a flaw.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WastedMeat (1103369) on Monday May 07, 2012 @01:20PM (#39917141)

    If you are Black or Hispanic, this is a static property of your biology. It will never change. If you are religious, odds are that you inherited it from your parents, but it is still a choice. Not necessarily an easy one if it stems from childhood indoctrination, but it is still a choice, and therefore it's socially acceptable to make fun of it.

    It's the same mechanism by which people who choose to be religious justify hating homosexuals.

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