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Human Brain Continues To Evolve And Grow

by Medindia Content Team on  September 9, 2005 at 7:28 PM Research News   - G J E 4
Human Brain Continues To Evolve And Grow
Researchers at the University of Chicago have discovered intriguing findings that lead them to conclude that the human brain is apparently still evolving.

There are two genes linked to the size of the brain and these genes are still evolving and changing in humans.
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Bruce Lahn, an assistant professor of human genetics and a lead researchers of paper published in Science said: "Our studies indicate the trend that is the defining characteristic of human evolution -- the growth of brain size and complexity -- is likely still going on,"

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"Meanwhile, our environment and the skills we need to survive in it are changing ... I would expect the human brain, which has done well by us so far, will continue to adapt to those changes," added Lahn.

The scientists looked at the evolutionary history of two genes -- microcephalin and abnormal spindle-like microcephaly-associated (ASPM) -- which appear to regulate brain size. Over thousands of years, both genes seem to be generating new and improved versions of themselves and this beneficial mutations is spreading rapidly among the human population to reshape and strengthen brain capacity.

"We're seeing two examples of such a spread in progress," said. Lahn "In each case, it's a spread of a new genetic variant in a gene that controls brain size. This variant is clearly favored by natural selection."

He emphasized that evolution doesn't occur at the species level but some individuals acquire a specific genetic mutation, and, because that variant confers on those who bear it a greater likelihood of survival, it then spreads in rest of the population.

The microcephalin gene, the variation arose about 37,000 years ago and this coincides with the time period when art, music and tool-making were emerging. For ASPM, the variation arose about 5,800 years ago, approx. coinciding with the development of written language, spread of agriculture and development of cities, said Lahn.

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