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Research reveals the crucial genetic mutation accounting for the extensive cognitive ability of the modern human brain.

Thousands of years ago, several human-like species existed. Fast forward to the modern day, homo sapiens (modern humans) are the only ones remaining.  Scientists have long been fascinated by the question: What advantage did we have that allowed us to survive and outcompete other human species? 

As neuroscientists have recently reported, a single mutation in a gene may have given us an edge over the Neanderthals, our now extinct ancestor. 

What does the gene do?

The gene identified is TKTL1, a gene that encodes a protein crucial in the developing fetal brain. When compared with the Neanderthal, most modern humans have this gene mutated. Starting before birth, this mutation promotes the proliferation of neurons and helps to generate a larger cortex. Thus, modern humans gained a larger platform for cognitive processing, which likely assisted our survival. Interestingly, researchers reported that a small number of people in the world still possess the original unmutated TKTL1 similar to Neanderthals’; however, the impact of this older version of the gene is unknown.

Why is this finding important?

Understanding this gene and the neurological pathways it participates in could help scientists to delineate the development of cognition, further uncovering the mystery behind modern humans’  edge in surviving in and understanding the world.

Interested in TKTL1 and brain development?  Read more here!

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