Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

The Gene That Makes Us Human
A rapidly evolved piece of DNA that’s unique to humans could be the key to the human brain

SOURCE:An RNA Gene Expressed during Cortical Development Evolved Rapidly in Humans”
Katherine Pollard et al.
Nature 443(7108): 167-172

RESULTS: Researchers identified a small piece of DNA that has undergone rapid evolution in humans but not in other species, such as chickens and chimpanzees. The DNA sequence is part of a gene that codes for RNA rather than for a protein; the gene is expressed during development of the cerebral cortex.

WHY IT MATTERS: The human brain is three times the size of a chimp’s–largely because of a bigger cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain that is responsible for reasoning and other types of complex thought. Because the newly identified variation is unique to humans, and the gene it is part of is active during cortical development, the finding might help explain how the human brain evolved.

METHODS: Researchers compared the human genome with the genomes of chimps, dogs, rats, mice, and chickens to find genetic sequences that changed little between species, suggesting that they were functionally important. Within those shared regions, the researchers looked for sequences that had changed significantly between chimpanzees and humans, indicating that those changes played a crucial role in human evolution.

NEXT STEPS: Researchers will try to better understand the RNA gene’s role in brain development and cognition by creating a mouse that expresses the human form of the gene.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Biomedicine

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me