Thinking Like a Neanderthal
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As scientists have become adept at extracting DNA from fossils over the past decade, they're now sequencing the genomes of human's ancient cousins, the Neanderthals. As much as we're similar, we're finding major genetic differences. For example, Neanderthal genes found in half of South Asians make them more susceptible to COVID-nineteen but may protect them from other diseases.

New research now suggest one Neanderthal gene distinguishes its brain function from the modern human and may explain why humans replaced them on Earth. The gene is called NOVA-one and recent advances allow scientists to see its impact on mini-human brains they're growing in the lab to the size of an apple seed. When researchers replaced the human version with the Neanderthal NOVA-One gene in stem cells, they saw that the mini-brains had a rough outer surface compared to the human one which was smooth.

The Neanderthal mini-brains matured more quickly, were smaller, and had electrical activities that weren't as synchronized. They theorized the Neanderthals needed rapidly developed brain networks that favor visual and spatial abilities for survival. In contrast, humans required more complex social abilities for group dynamics which necessitates slower brain growth. This work examined just one gene.

We're counting on future genetic studies to help us not only better understand modern humans, but shed light on the diseases that plague us.

For more information…

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