October 19, 2011
Researchers Find First Human From Primate Gene Split In Brain
A new analysis has found that the first genes which appeared after the primate branch split are more likely to be expressed in the developing human brain.
Researchers believe that evolutionary recent genes may be responsible for constructing the uniquely powerful human brain.
"We found that there is a correlation between new gene origination and the evolution of the brain," senior author Manyuan Long, PhD, Professor of Ecology & Evolution at the University of Chicago, wrote in the journal PLoS Biology. "There are some 50 to 60 human-specific genes in the frontal cortex of the brain, the part that makes humans diverge with other non-human primates."
Scientists have been trying to determine how the human brain evolved into its anatomy and functional capacity that currently separates us from our primate ancestors.
The researchers merged a database of gene age with transcription data from humans and mice to look for when and where young genes are expressed.
The team found that a higher percentage of primate-specific young genes were expressed in brain than mouse-specific young genes.
They said human-specific young genes are more likely to be seen in fetal brain, when the organ is developing.
The authors stressed their finding is only a correlation between the appearance of young, human-specific genes and the evolutionary appearance of advanced brain structures.
They said future research will look at the function of these genes and the role they may have played in building today's unique human brain.
"Traditionally, people don't believe that a new protein or new gene can play any role in an important process. Most people only pay attention to the regulation of genes," Long said in a press release. "But out of a total of about 1,300 new genes, only 13 percent were involved in new regulation. The rest, some 1,100 genes, are new genes that bring a whole new type of function."
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