CTOnews.com, Dec. 20 (Xinhua)-- humans have long claimed to be the smartest creatures on the planet, and while the word "smart" may be subjective, at least we are well-deserved leaders in terms of brain development. Scientists have been eager to solve this mystery: what makes our brains so different from other primates? Evolution can provide some explanations, but at the micro level, why the human brain has such a special growth pattern has always been shrouded in fog.
Tu Yuan PixabayCTOnews.com notes that a new study recently published in the journal Cell reveals for the first time key differences in growth and development between the human brain and other primates.
Compared with chimpanzees and apes, our brains are much larger and have an amazing number of neurons, which is one of the fundamental differences between us and them. By culturing microbrain samples in the laboratory, the researchers observed key differences between the early development of the human brain and chimpanzees and apes.
In the early developmental stages of humans and primates, the brain is mainly composed of neural progenitor cells. These slender cells can divide repeatedly and eventually differentiate into neurons. Simply put, more progenitor cells mean more neurons, and studies have found that human progenitor cells behave very differently from those of apes and chimpanzees.
Observing the proliferation of primate progenitor cells, the researchers found that these cells proliferate at a higher rate for about five days, then gradually mature and proliferate more slowly. Mouse progenitor cells, by contrast, can mature in just a few hours. This extended time window gives primates larger brain capacity and more brainpower, while human progenitor cells are invited to climb another story.
Studies have shown that human progenitor cells proliferate for a whole week and then turn into neurons. As cell division increases exponentially, the extra two days of division means that the human brain will produce more neurons.
Further studies suggest that this difference in cellular behavior may be controlled by the ZEB2 gene. Interestingly, by slowing down the activity of the ZEB2 gene in primate tissue, brain-like organs grown in the lab become closer to the human brain. So, if we slow down the activity of the ZEB2 gene during human development, will super-intelligent humans be cultivated? We don't know yet.
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