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Deleting Certain Gene Makes Mice Smarter 259

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 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 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 erroneus ( 253617 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:44AM (#33625910) Homepage

    I couldn't decide how to mod this. I was leaning in favor of insightful, but to hell with it. I'm replying instead.

    I wonder if this or similar genes could be responsible for "above average" intelligence in some people. It would seem to explain why the majority of people seem to maintain their seemingly low average. As I have contemplated what makes some people with above average intelligence different and how they can either tone it down or otherwise adjust comfortably into society, it occurs to me that this is just something that can't be "turned off" or "learned away." In many respects, it seems as uncontrollable as homosexuality. No one "decides" to be gay any more than anyone decides to be smart. (FWIW, I like women... I have contemplated going the other way and have concluded I just can't go that way and for quite similar reasons... nekkid women pictures have been giving me erections since I was at least four years old and I can't imagine it working any other way.)

    Perhaps I am simply too contemplative, but that is something I simply cannot turn off except when I am sleeping. (and even then... is it really off?) By the age of 10, my contemplative nature led me to conclude there can be no God in the form it is currently being pushed on us and even if there were, I see to reason or purpose behind worshipping. (well, exposure to PBS and the clear existence of "childhood myths" such as santa claus and the easter bunny also helped in the process to be sure.)

    But where does it all come from and why aren't other people like this? How is it other people are simply comfortable following without thinking about things and I am not? It would be interesting to know if this or similar genes are actually responsible. And like many homosexual people, I wouldn't care to change it even if I could -- this is who I am and I don't need to change me, I just want to understand me.

  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:12AM (#33626010)

    As I have contemplated what makes some people with above average intelligence different and how they can either tone it down or otherwise adjust comfortably into society, it occurs to me that this is just something that can't be "turned off" or "learned away."

    Now that's just plain wrong.

    In my youth, I lacked the discretion I gained with age. Thus, in my younger days, I spoke in a manner far exceeding the accepted capacities of my age, causing me to be looked upon as odd, unlikeable, or "the weird one."

    As the years passed, I learned to "tone things down," suppressing my abilities in day to day interactions. I spoke simpler, broke down things that others considered complex to something understandable, and overall integrated as a more "normal" person. Note that I continued to get 90-100%, but because I was such an easygoing and average/fun person, my peers considered my intellect to be just natural and accepted rather than something to ostracize me on. Some considered it to be advantageous because, hey, get that guy on the project and BAM! A+!

    So y'know, toning things down isn't impossible. My completely anecdotal evidence counters your anecdotal evidence. It's a learned skill just like any social skills. The only folks that probably can't tone it down are those with autism. For those who actually have Asperger's instead of self diagnosed, it's doable but more difficult to do without outside support.

    I don't really consider "toning it down" to actually be dumbing yourself down. Speaking in a manner that isn't a pretentious a-hole is like speaking another language. Sure I can talk to the Chinese guy in English and demand he understand what I say, but that's not exactly a stellar way to present yourself. Learning to speak their language shows greater prowess on my part and puts them at ease too.

    I gotta say though. I've been at it for way too long. Talking all educated like to my profs makes me stumble all over my words. Unless I effect an English accent. For some weird reason if I put an English accent on, I become less stumbly and more smooth.

    And enough with the "I'm so smart! I'm an atheist!" shtick. It's been feeling masturbatory for a while.

  • 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.
  • Maybe (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:38AM (#33626102)

    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 ZeroExistenZ ( 721849 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:48AM (#33626130)

    As I have contemplated what makes some people with above average intelligence different and how they can either tone it down or otherwise adjust comfortably into society

    I'm sorry, but you come off as very elitist; "I don't fit into society, but I'm way above average and everybody else is too stupid (to understand me). That's reasoning in order to maintain a certain position you clearly dislike, but giving purpose to it by telling yourself you're "above average".

    "Intellingence" is a very wide subject and is sensitive to interpretation: A bushman wouldn't be able to "do the intelligent things you consider intelligent", but you wouldn't survive long in his world. It's relative, but you victimize yourself and place yourself on top of other in a egocentrical "I must be better".

    Perhaps I am simply too contemplative, but that is something I simply cannot turn off except when I am sleeping. (and even then... is it really off?)

    Oh, woo me, the intelligent creature who suffers and is "always on". All those other stupid fucks sleep well and go about their meaningless lifes...

    By the age of 10, my contemplative nature led me to conclude there can be no God in the form it is currently being pushed on us

    I'm sorry, but that doesn't take "above average intelligence". And by all means, by the age of 10 you do not have a "need for a god" in a western midclass world where you're shielded from life, certain life events later who will make you cry you wished there was something or someone who is godlike. At 10, you lack certain insight and experience. I'm not telling you I believe in a god, but at that age you lack experience.

    (well, exposure to PBS and the clear existence of "childhood myths" such as santa claus and the easter bunny also helped in the process to be sure.)

    TV isn't life, get out, live a bit.

    But where does it all come from and why aren't other people like this?

    They're not around because they don't like hanging out by an isolated guy who feels superiour in his self-explaining of his isolation.

    And like many homosexual people, I wouldn't care to change it even if I could

    Don't mix intelligence, a sense of superiority with your sexual preferences and religion. You're not discussing on topic, you're just being an egocentric shortminded selfentitling dumbfuck.

    I'm sure you feel you have all figured out already as well :)

  • by derGoldstein ( 1494129 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:49AM (#33626132) Homepage
    How about we separate social abilities from intellectual capacity. Some people are smart, and since they don't notice that it makes them different, they become outsiders. Others are both smart and very perceptive, so they "modulate" their behavior according to who they're talking to. Yet others make a conscious decision that if someone else doesn't approve of the way they are, then that someone is at fault, and not them.

    And to continue the theme: I'm an atheist, intelligent, knowledgeable, and a snappy dresser!
  • Re:Yeah! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stms ( 1132653 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:49AM (#33626138)
  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:56AM (#33626152) Journal

    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 to be an upgrade would have been selected instantly if it were indeed an upgrade, as genes break all the time.

    And for that matter, if that gene is a downgrade, how did it get selected in the first place. Survival of the fittest is still the name of the game, and in this case we're not even talking outside colours or anything else blamable on sexual selection. So, really, how did a whole extra gene that causes a downgrade get there, if it's a downgrade?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they'll test it to heck and back before using it on humans, and all that. They're scientists and all that.

    All I'm saying is just don't get your hopes too high yet. It may well turn out to be a literal implementation of the Flowers For Algernon [] story.

  • Re:Yeah! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @07:01AM (#33626172) Journal

    Actually, maybe I'm a pessimist, but I was more like reminded of Flowers For Algernon [].

  • by derGoldstein ( 1494129 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @07:03AM (#33626180) Homepage
    If you could counter these points and make the arguments that you did, then you can also observe that your reaction was visceral. It's entirely possible that he was being honest, and that on this site, at this hour, on a weekend, he could allow himself to be. I agree with part of what you've said (see what I posted above about social abilities), but your reaction "came off" as knee-jerk, and you could have argued back without assuming, or pointing out, that he seemed elitist. Also, this is Slashdot, who here *isn't* an elitist?? :)
  • 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.

  • by ooshna ( 1654125 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @08:16AM (#33626436)

    All humans have managed to do is delude themselves into believing that they are superior to every other species on the planet so that they can slaughter innocent animals in order to satisfy their taste buds, even when there are other sources of food to eat that don't suffer just as we do.

    Yeah those damn insensitive humans oh and don't forget those wolves too I mean the forest is full of yummy berries and even mushrooms but all they want to do is eat those cute innocent deer.

  • by vadim_t ( 324782 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @08:21AM (#33626464) Homepage

    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 need for it. When you're big and scary, and can crush many smaller lifeforms effortlessly, there's no particular need to become smarter. We need intelligence because we have little else. Our sense of smell is crappy, our strenth is unimpressive, our speed is insufficient. The thing that ensured humans didn't turn into lunch for a bear was that they were able to figure out a way to deal with something that big, strong and scary.

    Not only did we develop vast intelligence, but we developed abilities that ANTICIPATED the need for them. Why did we develop the ability to drive 60, 70,-100 miles per hour or more while weaving in and out of traffic? Unless you are a cheetah, there is no need for that ability. Yet we as cavemen do that easily every day (at least the nut jobs among us do.) The abilities that humans evolved, evolved long before there was any need for them and they far exceeded the need for mere survival. Evolving the ability to evolve and evolving the ability to anticipate need and change for it ahead of time is not conforming to Darwin's theory of evolution as I know it. Something is not understood. This gene merely illustrates that once again.

    Two things. First, have you ever watched Discovery Channel?

    We had needs for decent reflexes way before we started driving cars. Before that there were horses, and war, and wild animals. You think you can afford to react slowly when hunting or defending yourself, when all you have is a spear? Every millisecond you wait in front of a predator is a millisecond the predator has to jump at your neck. The environment can change quickly. A millisecond may make the difference between saving yourself and rolling downhill, if you manage to adjust your balance or catch on something in time.

    Besides, our reaction speed isn't particularly impresssive. Try catching a fly sometime. Flies sure react quickly, and my cat seems to be significantly more successful than I at catching them.

    Second, you have things exactly backwards. The "need" to drive cars is of our own creation. We didn't evolve to drive cars, we created cars and roads with our constraints in mind. Cars, roads, speed limits and braking distances are all made so that humans can deal with them. If our reflexes were twice as slow, we'd still drive cars, except with the rules and limits set to account for that.

  • by derGoldstein ( 1494129 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @08:21AM (#33626466) Homepage
    Both statements are true. However, keep in mind that both would also apply to vaccination. We opt to alter our immune system in a certain way because, over a span of time, we found that it saves lives. There are always going to be anomalies, but that's why we have the ability to discern. We keep deadly plagues frozen even though they haven't been seen in the wild for decades, because these diseases may hold the key to solving problems in the future. Also, even if we do start altering our genes like changing clothes, not everyone is going to have the same taste -- our creative diversity will lead to the genetic one.
    (yes, I'm being optimistic, we're probably going to design human weapons before we cure cancer, but it's going to take time anyway, so I'd prefer to think that we have a future rather than an apocalypse awaiting us)
  • by x2A ( 858210 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @08:50AM (#33626574)

    "For such an 'intelligent' species, humans sure seem shortsighted"

    You do realise that humans are like... completely different people, and the few can ruin things for the many? Like, if you find somebody with a 50 IQ, you can't determine from that that "humans are a stupid species"; the fact that there are people with IQ's of 50 doesn't discredit the work that people with IQ's of 150 do, just as rapists don't invalidate the work that the charitable and selfless do, and the fact that you paint a species of 6 billion with a single brush doesn't mean that there aren't people who can tell different people apart exist.

  • by netjiro ( 632132 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:48AM (#33626872)
    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 silanea ( 1241518 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:52AM (#33626890)

    I would be very cautious with such statements. We did not get rid of diseases by growing immune to them or by developing a natural defense, and we are not the only things on this planet that adopt to changes. We are dependent on our culture and way of living to keep our environment livable. Hygiene standards, medical treatment and a steady supply with fresh drinking water and food prevent widespread plagues in the industrial nations. Let that break down only for a few weeks on a national scale and we will quickly see how "unnatural" our selection really is.

    Though the big panic of the 80s and 90s has calmed down, HIV is still killing scores in the First World. $deity help us all if it ever finds a way to spread over the air.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:38AM (#33627222)
    A person is smart.
    People are stupid
  • by Ricwot ( 632038 ) <> on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:48PM (#33628634) Homepage

    Normal is a horrible thing to be. Statistically it's normal to be poor, and uneducated, living under a despotic regime. Even in western societies normal is uneducated, ugly and boring. By virtue of being born somewhere decent, we are all better off, and education only helps that. If I had to swap with anyone I went to high school with, I'd kill myself moments later.

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments