This gene, in turn, influences dozens of other genes.
So far, scientists have relied on genetics and fossil analysis to understand how a species has evolved. However, some researchers have sought to understand what differentiates us – modern humans – from our ancestors, in other words, Neanderthals and Denisovans. To do this, these scientists were interested in a part that does not fossilize: the brain.
SCIENTISTS HAVE DONE TO DESIGN MINI-BRAINS OF NÉANDERTALIANS
The study, published in the journal Sciences, was conducted by Dr. Alysson R. Muotri, both the director of the stem cell program at UC San Diego and a professor of cellular and molecular medicine. It should indeed be known that brains do not fossilize. As a result, the researchers had to reconstruct a brain using stem cells, which are the source of other types of cells and can create mini-brains in the laboratory.
Scientists previously noted all the differences between the genomes of modern humans and Neanderthals and Denisovans who lived between 2.6 million and 11,700 years ago. They were also able to mimic an alteration found in a Neanderthal gene to create brain organoids from stem cells.
The study identified a total of 61 genes that differentiate modern humans from ancient humans. However, only one of these genes, called NOVA1, would have influenced the others during the brain’s development.
THE NOVA1 GENE COULD BE THE SOURCE OF MOST OF OUR CURRENT ABILITIES
According to Dr. Muotri, “This study focused on a single gene that differed modern humans from our deceased relatives,” reports earth.com. This scientist also adds that “we don’t know exactly how and when in our evolutionary history this change occurred. But it seems essential to precisely explain some of our modern abilities in social behavior, language, adaptation, creativity and the use of technology. “
Now scientists plan to look at the consequences of modifying a single gene, two genes, or several genes among the other 60 genes. Dr. Muotri is already looking forward to this prospect and says he is looking forward to “this new combination of stem cell biology, neuroscience and paleogenomics”. He concludes that “the ability to apply the comparative approach of modern humans to other extinct hominids (…) using brain organoids carrying ancestral genetic variants is a whole new area of study.”