Neanderthals have long been portrayed as our mindless, thuggish cousins. Now, ground-breaking research has revealed surprising differences in the brain development of modern humans, even if it doesn’t confirm this stereotype. Neanderthals.
The research involved inserting the Neanderthal brain gene into mice, ferrets and “mini-brain” structures called organelles grown in the laboratory from human stem cells. The experiments revealed that the Neanderthal version of the gene was associated with a slower generation of neurons in the cerebral cortex during development, which scientists say could explain superior cognitive abilities in modern humans.
“Making more neurons lays the foundation for higher cognitive function,” said Wieland Huttner, who led the work at the Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Cell. Biology and Genetics. “We think this is the first convincing evidence that modern humans are cognitively better than Neanderthals.”
modern people and Neanderthals It split into separate lineages around 400,000 years ago when our ancestors stayed in Africa and Neanderthals moved north into Europe. About 60,000 years ago, the mass migration of modern humans out of Africa brought these two species face to face once again, and they merged – Modern non-African humans carry 1-4% of Neanderthal DNA. By 30,000 years ago, our ancient cousins had disappeared as a distinct species, and how we left Neanderthals behind remains a mystery.
“A concrete fact is that wherever homo sapiens goes, it competes with other living species there. It’s a bit strange,” said Laurent Nguyen, a professor at the University of Liege who was not involved in the latest study. “These guys [Neanderthals] they were in Europe long before us and could adapt to the environment, including pathogens. The main question is why we can leave them behind.
Some argue that our ancestors had an intellectual edge, but until recently there was no way to scientifically test this hypothesis. This has changed over the last decade with the successful sequencing of scientists Neanderthal DNA A fossilized finger found in a Siberian cave opens the door to new insights into how Neanderthal biology differed from our own.
The latest experiments focus on a gene called TKTL1, which is involved in the production of neurons in the developing brain. The Neanderthal version of the gene differs from the human version by one letter. When introduced into mice, the scientists found that the Neanderthal variant led to the production of fewer neurons, particularly in the frontal lobe of the brain, where most cognitive functions are located. The scientists also tested the gene’s effects in lab-grown tissues called organelles, which replicate the basic structures of the developing brain.
“This shows us that although we don’t know how many neurons the Neanderthal brain had, we can assume that modern humans have more neurons in the frontal part of the brain. [the gene’s] activity is higher than Neanderthals,” said Anneline Pinson, first author of the study.
Chris Stringer, head of human origins research at the Natural History Museum in London, called the work “pioneering” and said it began to solve one of the central puzzles of human evolution – why, with all the past diversity of humans, we are now the only one.
“Ideas have come and gone—better tools, better weapons, proper language, art and symbolism, better brains,” Stringer said. “Finally, this gives us a clue as to why our brains work better than Neanderthals.”
Although more neurons dictate the basic computing power of the brain, it does not automatically equate to a smarter human species. The human brain has about twice as many neurons as the brains of chimpanzees and bonobos.
Nguyen said the latest work is far from definitive proof of superior intelligence in modern humans, but it does demonstrate that Neanderthals had significant differences in brain development. “It’s an exciting story,” he said.
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