Monday, 22 July 2013

First look into workings of the Neanderthal brain

BONES. That is all the passing millennia have left us of the Neanderthals and the more elusive Denisovans. Until recently, the main insights gleaned from these bones have been physical: what our cousins might have looked like, for instance, and how they moved. But cutting-edge genetic science is changing that.

We can now see, for the first time, which genes are switched on in humans but were not in Neanderthals and Denisovans, and vice versa. The findings point to subtle differences between our brain structure and function, and theirs.

The research, presented last week at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution meeting in Chicago, reveals that after our ancestors split from Neanderthals and Denisovans, they evolved differences in genes connected with cognitive abilities. Many of those genes are associated with mental disorders in modern humans.

Working out which genes ...

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