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'Master Gene' Makes Mouse Brain Look More Human 121

Posted by Soulskill
from the rats-of-nimh-become-real dept.
sciencehabit writes "Researchers have found a genetic mutation that causes mammalian neural tissue to expand and fold. When they mutated this gene in mice, the rodents developed brains that look more like ours (abstract). The discovery may help explain why humans evolved more elaborate brains than mice, and it could suggest ways to treat disorders such as autism and epilepsy that arise from abnormal neural development. The findings go against a common conception that 'dumber species will have different genes' for brain development than more intelligent species, Borrell says. He adds that the mechanism could help explain how New World monkeys, with their small, smooth brains, could have evolved from an ancestor with a bigger and more folded brain."
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'Master Gene' Makes Mouse Brain Look More Human

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  • by Dahamma (304068) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @02:25AM (#43565039)

    I was somehow hoping this study was done at NIMH.

    • Re:Disappointed. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fractoid (1076465) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @03:17AM (#43565271) Homepage
      Perfect. :) The bit I don't get is how "a genetic mutation that causes mammalian neural tissue to expand and fold" disproves "'dumber species will have different genes'? Since, well, it's a gene that's different. Also, conflating folding of the neural tissues with intelligence (rather than simply viewing it as a necessary precursor) sounds like the modern version of "men are more intelligent than women because their brains weigh more."
      • Re:Disappointed. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @04:21AM (#43565449) Journal

        ... conflating folding of the neural tissues with intelligence (rather than simply viewing it as a necessary precursor) sounds like the modern version of "men are more intelligent than women because their brains weigh more"

        Very true !!!

        Even amongst the humans, there are some who are very intelligent and then there are some who are very very stupid

        As humans, both the very intelligent and the very very stupid have brains which fold --- which indicates that it's not the folding of the brain which gives rise of intelligence

        • All this speculation about Intelligenct has me wondering why they didn't test mice to see if there were any noticable changes.

        • by Shavano (2541114)
          There are a multitude of other things that can go wrong with brain development or otherwise cause you to be stupid. For instance, lead poisoning as a child or being raised by creationists and attending prayer meetings where rattlesnakes are handled.
        • Re:Disappointed. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by foniksonik (573572) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @12:03PM (#43567753) Homepage Journal

          Even the stupidest, most retarded or genetically impoverished human is orders of magnitude more sentient and "intelligent" than 99.999% of the other species on the planet.

          • I'm not sure about that. Whales, dolphins and great apes could probably give the "most retarded and genetically impoverished" a run for their money, along with possibly other animals.
            • by Dahamma (304068)

              Yeah, but since more than 80% of the species on the planet are insects, technically he's probably still right...

          • by Jmc23 (2353706)
            No. No they aren't.

            However, they do believe they are when they post their made up statistics on slashdot.

      • by Sarten-X (1102295)

        The bit I don't get is how "a genetic mutation that causes mammalian neural tissue to expand and fold" disproves "'dumber species will have different genes'? Since, well, it's a gene that's different.

        It's a poorly worded sentence. The theory is that having a more intelligent and more complex brain requires significantly more complex genes to develop. A single gene making such a big change means that the genetic instructions for the "smart" and "dumb" variations are actually encoded into both genomes, and just require this "master gene" to activate them.

        What makes this significant is that it may contradict our current theories of evolutionary history. Finding turned-off intelligence in "dumb" mammals sug

        • Erk... as someone who's at least cursorily looked at genes related to intelligence, let me tidy that up for you.

          Human intelligence depends on a lot of very strange mutations that are unique to humans. We know with certainty that these mutations happened very recently because all of the other animals have very similar genes in the same area. For the functionality to have been lost, it would have had to disappear every time we split from another animal, and vanish in the exact same way. Before you know it you

          • by fractoid (1076465)
            Thanks. When people reply to me, even indirectly, the best ones are with science, because then that gives me something to look up which will actually mean things. Keep up the good work and ty again.
        • by mikael (484)

          The ways brains are organized, is that you have the actual processing (gray matter) on the outer 2.5 millimeters of the brain , while all the interconnections (white matter) are in the center of the brain. The wrinkling helps to boost short-distance connections. Look for pictures on "diffusion tensor imaging" to get pictures of these connections. There was some research carried out that indicated that indicated that the length of the connections and thickness of the gray matter influenced a persons abilitie

      • by Shavano (2541114)

        Perfect. :) The bit I don't get is how "a genetic mutation that causes mammalian neural tissue to expand and fold" disproves "'dumber species will have different genes'? Since, well, it's a gene that's different. Also, conflating folding of the neural tissues with intelligence (rather than simply viewing it as a necessary precursor) sounds like the modern version of "men are more intelligent than women because their brains weigh more."

        There's no data showing that it's even a necessary precursor or has anything to do with growing a smarter brain. Surely humans are born with a defect in that gene sometimes. Are they dumb?

        • by fractoid (1076465)

          Surely humans are born with a defect in that gene sometimes. Are they dumb?

          Probably. Humans are born dumb for a whole bunch of reasons that will someday be easily fixed by science. :(

          • by Shavano (2541114)

            Surely humans are born with a defect in that gene sometimes. Are they dumb?

            Probably. Humans are born dumb for a whole bunch of reasons that will someday be easily fixed by science. :(

            I agree it's probable. But until you've done the research you don't *know* and it's important to therefore refrain from making too many assumptions that are not backed up by solid evidence.

      • what they seem to have discovered is that one and the same gene in each species can mutate in a different way and cause two different brain types. That is a single gene mutates rather than two separate and unique genes. From TFA:

        "Because the human cerebral cortex is generally considered "special," some scientists have hypothesized that the genes that govern its development of cortical folds and furrows are also unique to humans..."

        Apparently these scientists hypothesized wrong.

        I for one welcome our n

        • by mikael (484)

          A lot of tissue growth and development is controlled by reaction-diffusion equations. In two dimensions you get patterns like infinite growing spots, spots, stripes, labyrinths, branching and spirals. In three dimensions you get infinite growing spheres, spots, spot-splitting, sheets, 3D tube labyrinths and scroll waves. In between infinite growing spheres and labyrinths you get wrinkled brains. You can model this using the Gray-Scott reaction diffusion system. Just a single change in ratios of a single che

          • by fractoid (1076465)
            Anyone who's worked with chaotic system simulations would be amazed if your answer were any different.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        In the realm of comparative anatomy, "intelligence" is thought to be increased with both mass (to body ratio) and by area [brynmawr.edu] of the neocortex [wikipedia.org], called lissencephaly [wikipedia.org]. The area of the neocortex is increased by brain folding,much like the surface area of the small bowel is increased by folds and vili and micro vili.

        Genes are only one part of the development process - mutations in genes can add or delete function. Promoters in DNA control how those genes are expressed. A "good" gene can be present, but under exp

        • In the realm of comparative anatomy, "intelligence" is thought to be increased with both mass (to body ratio)

          Does the body somehow hinder intelligence, or why is it assumed that a brain of the same mass is less intelligent if it sits in a larger body?

          • by fractoid (1076465)
            Excellent question. I doubt you'll get a good answer because the implication that you are questioning is probably wrong.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Same thing we do every night Pinky - try to take over the world.

  • by Dorianny (1847922) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @02:31AM (#43565071) Journal
    I wish journalists would stop including the mandatory bit about how this might lead to such and such practical applications when reporting on scientific discoveries. Knowledge is worth pursuing even if it doesn't lead to any practical applications.
    • by rusty0101 (565565) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @02:53AM (#43565173) Homepage Journal

      Yes it is, however scientists and reporters covering science research have no shortage of evidence demonstrating that if they don't provide concrete possible practical applications, the public perception is that scientists are getting research funding that they are squandering in the science equivalent of the $56,000 hammer sold to the military. Now if you want all research that is worth pursuing even if it doesn't lead to any practical applications receive that treatment, I'm pretty sure that there will be a large number of people willing to encourage the lambasting.

      • by Shavano (2541114)

        ... the public perception is that scientists are getting research funding that they are squandering in the science equivalent of the $56,000 hammer sold to the military...

        What makes you think they're wrong?

        • by rusty0101 (565565)

          Original post actually. I agree that knowledge that does not result in practical applications is worth research. As an example a moth's wings are covered in dust, which we don't find on butterflies. Why? What's the advantage that this provides a moth? Pilots know that dust on an aircraft wing has a significant impact on the aerodynamic characteristics of the wing, so there is the possibility that if we understand why a moth's wings are covered in dust, from an aerodynamic perspective, we may be able to deve

          • by Shavano (2541114)

            No doubt there is a reason why moths have dust on their wings. Your claim that knowing why might be useful in aircraft bigger than moths is wild, baseless speculation. You should be embarrassed to make such claims. But it might eventually be applied on insect-sized drones, or engineered insects that function as drones.

            You apparently didn't get my point. The $56000 hammer is useful. It's a hammer, for Christ's sake. But paying $56000 for it is not a prudent way to spend money.

            Likewise, it may be true

            • by rusty0101 (565565)

              The question you posed was 'What makes you think they are wrong?' in response to the perception that the scientists are squandering research funding, in the example as a $56000 hammer being sold to the military is perceived. That question makes two presumptions, that perhaps the $56000 hammer is fundamentally not squandering, or that scientists are squandering. While the image I had of a $56000 hammer was the idea of a 16 oz claw hammer with a wood handle, I concede that for $56000 one could be considering

        • by Sulphur (1548251)

          ... the public perception is that scientists are getting research funding that they are squandering in the science equivalent of the $56,000 hammer sold to the military...

          What makes you think they're wrong?

          When you have a $56,000 hammer, everything looks like a nail.

          • by Shavano (2541114)

            ... the public perception is that scientists are getting research funding that they are squandering in the science equivalent of the $56,000 hammer sold to the military...

            What makes you think they're wrong?

            When you have a $56,000 hammer, everything looks like a nail.

            Yeah, but would you hit an ordinary nail with a $56000 hammer, or would you be looking for MIL-SPEC nails?

            • by Sulphur (1548251)

              ... the public perception is that scientists are getting research funding that they are squandering in the science equivalent of the $56,000 hammer sold to the military...

              What makes you think they're wrong?

              When you have a $56,000 hammer, everything looks like a nail.

              Yeah, but would you hit an ordinary nail with a $56000 hammer, or would you be looking for MIL-SPEC nails?

              M56K nails FTW.

    • Practical applications increase the worth of pursuing the knowledge. Including that information helps me evaluate how much the knowledge is worth.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 27, 2013 @02:32AM (#43565077)

    No need for name calling. Treat our American friends with respect, please.

    • Especially implying that all Americans are autistic due to their smooth brains is stretching it a bit.
  • Fear the day ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Skapare (16644)

    ... when the mice become self-aware.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      ... when the mice become self-aware.

      I'm more scared of the day when the mice decide human meat is the best way to feed their species.

      • by mikael (484)

        But humans make useful servants. What other species on the planet has managed to get another species a hundred times larger than themselves to bring them food, water and clean their homes for them?

        • But humans make useful servants. What other species on the planet has managed to get another species a hundred times larger than themselves to bring them food, water and clean their homes for them?

          Go into the next pet shop, and you'll find a few.

    • ... when the mice become self-aware.

      Are you implying that they're not aware of themselves? I mean, they are obviously self aware. They just have less awareness than you. Try not to apply such terms in a chauvinistic manner. You're not that special, and the article supports this assertion.

    • ... when the mice become self-aware.

      Don't worry, the self-aware machines will help keep them under control.

    • by anubi (640541)
      Willard? [wikipedia.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    No "Flowers for Algeron" jokes yet.

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      Screw Charlie, I somehow accidentally got the first post yet apparently no one on ./ knows who Mrs. Frisbee is...

    • by igny (716218)
      What is even more disturbing, no 42 jokes yet. This is one of those complex experiments mice are running on humans, you know.
    • by LoadWB (592248)

      Definitely a good read. I thought this right away. As rescuers sift through the rubble of what once was the research lab at Ludwig Maximilian University, they will uncover a journal with the sentence

      "Algernon bit me today."

  • "..from an ancestor with a bigger and more folded brai" Someone's brain forgot to fold one last time...
  • So that's how the Master will return in season 7.
  • Welp, better get my plasma rifle and powered armor ready for the coming hordes of super mutants.
  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @03:20AM (#43565277)

    I want to know if the folding increases their intelligence in any measurable way.

  • by dutchwhizzman (817898) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @04:34AM (#43565483)
    What are we going to do today Brain? Same as we do every day Pinky, try to conquer the world!
  • It was not necessary.

    Do you know what that thing between our ears "costs" our body? 20% of our total energy output is gobbled up by that thing! For 2% of the body mass. It better be effin' worth it!

    Evolution will never allow something that's not strictly beneficial for survival and reproduction to prevail. A bigger brain needs more food, and in times of shortages, mice who would evolve a bigger brain would starve to death first. They don't win anything from higher intelligence, on the other hand.

    We did. Mos

    • by Anonymous Coward

      We're actually quite adept at running long distances at medium speeds; enough to run a deer or antilope to the ground. You can still see it in effect - a lot of ground-bound animals wouldn't manage a marathon (even at scale, however you want to scale it).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I cannot believe how stupid you are and it's painful to see you got "Score: 3" for it.
      We're awesome at staying alive.

      > If it wasn't for that brain that allowed us to develop
      > tools to compensate our shortcomings.

      Here's where you're so wrong: it's the other way around.
      We used to be stronger but we figured out how to use tools and weapons, so we no longer need to be powerhouses ourselves.
      We used to have fur/feathers to keep us warm, but that shit was no longer necessary when we started using animal fur

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 27, 2013 @08:30AM (#43566347)

      ... Mostly because we are, essentially speaking, a big evolutionary mistake.

      BULLSHIT

      We shouldn't exist anymore, honestly. We're terrible at staying alive.

      Must be why there are 6+ BILLION humans spread over the ENTIRE FUCKING PLANET

      We can't run fast,

      Wrong. There aren't all that many land animals that can cover long distances faster than humans.

      we're not strong,

      Wrong. Humans are stronger than wolves. A good-sized wolf can't THROW a human. Yet any decently-strong human can actually pick up and throw a full-grown wolf.

      Of course, getting bit might be a problem, but that can be avoided.

      we can't hide easily,

      Wrong.

      we have no fur or feathers to keep us warm (which means we have to burn a LOT of calories just to heat up the air around us in cold periods!)...

      Irrelevant. Besides, neither do a lot of other large mammals.

      We are, essentially, an evolutionary mistake. ...

      Oxymoron at best. Meaningless babble at worst.

      Evolution makes no "mistakes" - evolution is not directed, it has no goal.

    • 20% of our total energy output is gobbled up by that thing!

      So are fat folks just not using their brains enough . . . ?

      I bet a lot of dieters would be delighted to hear that they can just think away their excess weight!

    • by knarf (34928)

      A bigger brain needs more food, and in times of shortages, mice who would evolve a bigger brain would starve to death first.

      Assuming that those bigger brains led to more intelligent mice...

      They don't win anything from higher intelligence, on the other hand.

      ...I think you're wrong there. More intelligent mice would be the ones most likely to get the remaining food. Sure, they need a bit more food to keep their bodies functioning, but they are well-equipped to out-smart the other mice to that food.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 27, 2013 @10:36AM (#43567153)

      ... We can't run fast, we're not strong, we can't hide easily, we have no fur or feathers to keep us warm (which means we have to burn a LOT of calories just to heat up the air around us in cold periods!)... We are, essentially, an evolutionary mistake. ...

      Actually we are able to long distance run better than any other animal on earth, so a good hunting strategy for humans is to just run after animals until they are too tired. We have a greater amount of throwing strength than any other animal, which makes throwing rocks a valid hunting strategy. Our combined abilities to climb, swim, and sprint allow us to escape predators, most of which can only do one or two of those three. Even if we didn't have our brainpower, we would be successful mid-tier predators and scavengers in temperate climates. The Homo genetic line didn't one day become super-geniuses compared to other animals. The extra brain power only allowed us to go from a niche predator to an apex predator.

    • We did. Mostly because we are, essentially speaking, a big evolutionary mistake. We can't run fast, we're not strong, we can't hide easily, we have no fur or feathers to keep us warm (which means we have to burn a LOT of calories just to heat up the air around us in cold periods!

      No, evolution does not make mistakes. Because evolution does not have a goal, does not have place to reach. When there is no right way for it to work, there can not be a wrong way. So by its very nature what evolution does can not be called right or wrong.

      We have not been leopard food for at least the last 15 million years. What is the proof? None of the greater apes have a life span less than 30 years. Animals that can die for no fault of them, purely due to chance, no matter how good they are in whatever survival strategy they follow die young. Insects, mice, most prey animals. Even predators that use the high risk chases die of accidents. Their life span is limited. Species that have control of their life, slow down. Elephants, rhinoceri, hippopotamus, great aps, larger birds, they have no predators, that is how they live that long. So we have been at the top of the food chain for at least 15 million years, since the great ape lines branched off from rest of the primates. Did you know all living things have exactly the same length of life in terms of heart beats. All animals get about 2 billion heartbeats of life.

      • Did you know all living things have exactly the same length of life in terms of heart beats. All animals get about 2 billion heartbeats of life.

        Did you know that most factoids found on the Internet are wrong?
        First, the factoid states 1 billion, not 2.
        Second, it only holds remotely true when restricted to mammals.
        Third, it's really not a very tight correlation between 1 billion beats and lifespan. [sjsu.edu] (scroll down a bit)
        Fourth, the real correlation is between energy consumption and size.
        Fifth, don't believe everything you read, and please, please, don't go spouting off everything you "know."

  • So I will finally be able to buy mouse-brain humans for chores around the house?

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      You mean like we used to be able to buy humans for chores around the house?
      How long before mouse slavery is banned too?

  • Finally, a real piece of scientific literature is put up with a well written summary, and the beasts that still live within slashdot have wrought forth an utter filth. Seriously?

    Do you know what that thing between our ears "costs" our body? 20% of our total energy output is gobbled up by that thing! For 2% of the body mass. It better be effin' worth it!"

    Is marked as interesting. I'm sorry. If science is all laser beams are pew pew awesome, then fine. Whatever. I dig it. But this is actual science. You shou

  • We found the "Master Gene", now all we need is the "Blaster Gene", and we'll finally be able to Run Barter Town! [youtube.com]

  • It wasn't a mutation they talk about in this paper but rather a gene that is different expressed in mice and Human. This little difference leads to remarkable different brain size. It is a big step towards understanding why our brain has this huge cortex (which is folded) and it is this cortex where all our higher brain functions are located, Math, language, etc. Of course a big brain is not necessary more intelligent than a smaller brain, but given the right input while its develops it is far superior to
  • The same thing we do every night. Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh
  • Did the mice with more brain sound like Orson Welles?

Every nonzero finite dimensional inner product space has an orthonormal basis. It makes sense, when you don't think about it.

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