Jul 3, 2023

Study Helps Identify Genetic Changes That Make Us Human

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, evolution, genetics, neuroscience

Humans split away from our closest animal relatives, chimpanzees, and formed our own branch on the evolutionary tree about seven million years ago. In the time since—brief, from an evolutionary perspective—our ancestors evolved the traits that make us human, including a much bigger brain than chimpanzees and bodies that are better suited to walking on two feet. These physical differences are underpinned by subtle changes at the level of our DNA. However, it can be hard to tell which of the many small genetic differences between us and chimps have been significant to our evolution.

New research from Whitehead Institute Member Jonathan Weissman; University of California, San Francisco Assistant Professor Alex Pollen; Weissman lab postdoc Richard She; Pollen lab graduate student Tyler Fair; and colleagues uses cutting edge tools developed in the Weissman lab to narrow in on the key differences in how humans and chimps rely on certain genes. Their findings, published in the journal Cell on June 20, may provide unique clues into how humans and chimps have evolved, including how humans became able to grow comparatively large brains.

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