Monday, January 01, 1990

Genes: Gene May Be Key To Evolution Of Larger Human Brain

Gene May Be Key To Evolution Of Larger Human Brain: "By comparing the gene's sequence in a range of primates, including humans, as well as non-primate mammals, the scientists found evidence that the pressure of natural selection accelerated changes in the gene, particularly in the primate lineage leading to humans.

In this study, the researchers focused on a gene called the Abnormal Spindle-Like Microcephaly Associated (ASPM) gene. Loss of function of the ASPM gene is linked to human microcephaly – a severe reduction in the size of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for planning, abstract reasoning and other higher brain function.

Lahn and his colleagues compared the sequence of the human ASPM gene to that from six other primate species shown genetically to represent key positions in the evolutionary hierarchy leading to Homo sapiens. Those species were chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, gibbon, macaque and owl monkey.

For each species, the researchers identified changes in the ASPM gene that altered the structure of the resulting protein, as well as those that did not affect protein structure. Only those genetic changes that alter protein structure are likely to be subject to evolutionary pressure, Lahn said. Changes in the gene that do not alter the protein indicate the overall mutation rate – the background of random mutations from which evolutionary changes arise. Thus, the ratio of the two types of changes gives a measure of the evolution of the gene under the pressure of natural selection.

Lahn and his colleagues found that the ASPM gene showed clear evidence of changes accelerated by evolutionary pressure in the lineage leading to humans, and the acceleration is most prominent in recent human evolution after humans parted way from chimpanzees.

By contrast, the researchers' analyses of the ASPM gene in the more primitive monkeys and in cows, sheep, cats, dogs, mice and rats, showed no accelerated evolutionary change. "The fact that we see this accelerated evolution of ASPM specifically in the primate lineage leading to humans, and not in these other mammals, makes a good case that the human lineage is special," said Lahn."

Howard Hughes Medical Institute
© The content of this blog is intended for personal or educational use. All rights are reserved for commercial use of contents. All images created by site author unless otherwise stated.