Scientists increased the brains of monkeys

The news can fascinate or make your back cold. Researchers have succeeded in “hacking” evolution, by reproducing in accelerated transformation from the monkey brain to the human brain, thanks to a gene increasing the number of neuron stem cells. An experiment interrupted for ethical reasons, but which nevertheless raises many questions about this type of manipulation.

What if, thanks to genetic manipulation, monkeys became as intelligent as humans , competing with them as in the Planet of the Apes? The subject has fascinated scientists for years, and a new experience brings us a little closer to Pierre Boule’s book adapted for cinema in 1968. German and Japanese researchers claim to  have “hacked” the evolution of the brain by increasing the volume of the neocortex in marmoset embryos.

The human brain, the result of a slow evolution from the monkey

Seven million years separate the great apes from the first  Homo sapiens . A slow evolution that has notably resulted in an increase in the size of the brain , and a modification of its structure, notably with an expansion of the cerebral neocortex. The latter, the youngest part of the cerebral cortex during evolution, is about three times larger than that of our closest relative, the chimpanzee. It is at the center of cognitive functions such as reasoning or language. One of the key questions for scientists is how the neocortex got so large and gave us our cognitive abilities.

One small DNA letter that makes all the difference

In the study published today in the journal Science , Wieland Huttner and his colleagues from the  Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), based in Dresden in Germany, looked at the ARHGAP11B gene . The latter is the result of a mutation in the ARHGAP11A gene, which occurred about 1.5 million years ago along the evolutionary line that led to Neanderthals, Denisovians and humans today , after this line separated from that of the chimpanzee. This gene codes for a protein known for its ability to increase the production of neural stem cells.