We are “smarter” than our ancestors thanks to a special gene in our brain | Sciences
An unusual protein change in our genes allowed us to evolve many more neurons than our ancestors. As a result, our brains are getting bigger and we can do more with them. This emerged Thursday from research conducted by scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
The study shows that altering a single protein in a specific gene helps our brains develop more neurons than other mammals and more than our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals.
It has to do with the so-called TKTL1 gene that alters the protein. This gene is expressed in cells responsible for the development of neurons in the neocortex. This is the area of the brain where all the important mental processes take place, such as communication and understanding the world around us. This area makes us human.
TKTL1 helps produce fatty acids that are important in cell division. Researchers believe that the extra fatty acids enable cells to grow and divide further, resulting in more nerve cells.
Our brain contains an average of 86 billion neurons. This is three to four times more than our ancestors. Neurons ensure, among other things, that we can plan ahead, communicate and create.
The researchers call this discovery a “true breakthrough.” “We can see how our brains differ from those of Neanderthals and better understand what makes us human.”
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