Science & Nature

What makes us human? The reply could also be present in ignored DNA

Our DNA is similar to that of the chimpanzee, which in evolutionary phrases is our closest dwelling relative. Stem cell researchers at Lund University in Sweden have now discovered a beforehand ignored a part of our DNA, so-called non-coded DNA, that seems to contribute to a distinction which, regardless of all our similarities, might clarify why our brains work in another way. The research is revealed within the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The chimpanzee is our closest dwelling relative in evolutionary phrases and analysis suggests our kinship derives from a typical ancestor. About 5 to 6 million years in the past, our evolutionary paths separated, resulting in the chimpanzee of immediately, and Homo Sapiens, humankind within the twenty first century.

In a brand new research, stem cell researchers at Lund examined what it’s in our DNA that makes human and chimpanzee brains completely different — and so they have discovered solutions.

“Instead of finding out dwelling people and chimpanzees, we used stem cells grown in a lab. The stem cells had been reprogrammed from pores and skin cells by our companions in Germany, the USA and Japan. Then we examined the stem cells that we had developed into mind cells,” explains Johan Jakobsson, professor of neuroscience at Lund University, who led the research.

Using the stem cells, the researchers particularly grew mind cells from people and chimpanzees and in contrast the 2 cell sorts. The researchers then discovered that people and chimpanzees use part of their DNA in numerous methods, which seems to play a substantial function within the improvement of our brains.

“The a part of our DNA recognized as completely different was surprising. It was a so-called structural variant of DNA that had been beforehand referred to as “junk DNA,” an extended repetitive DNA string which has lengthy been deemed to haven’t any operate. Previously, researchers have seemed for solutions within the a part of the DNA the place the protein-producing genes are — which solely makes up about two per cent of our complete DNA — and examined the proteins themselves to seek out examples of variations.”

The new findings thus point out that the variations seem to lie outdoors the protein-coding genes in what has been labelled as “junk DNA,” which was thought to haven’t any operate and which constitutes nearly all of our DNA.

“This means that the premise for the human mind’s evolution are genetic mechanisms which can be in all probability much more advanced than beforehand thought, because it was supposed that the reply was in these two per cent of the genetic DNA. Our outcomes point out that what has been important for the mind’s improvement is as an alternative maybe hidden within the ignored 98 per cent, which seems to be necessary. This is a shocking discovering.”

The stem cell method utilized by the researchers in Lund is revolutionary and has enabled such a analysis. The method was recognised by the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. It was the Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka who found that specialised cells might be reprogrammed and developed into all forms of physique tissue. And within the Lund researchers’ case, into mind cells. Without this method, it could not have been attainable to review the variations between people and chimpanzees utilizing ethically defensible strategies.

Why did the researchers wish to examine the distinction between people and chimpanzees?

“I consider that the mind is the important thing to understanding what it’s that makes people human. How did it come about that people can use their mind in such a approach that they’ll construct societies, educate their kids and develop superior expertise? It is fascinating!”

Johan Jakobsson believes that sooner or later the brand new findings may contribute to genetically-based solutions to questions on psychiatric problems, reminiscent of schizophrenia, a dysfunction that seems to be distinctive to people.

“But there’s a lengthy solution to go earlier than we attain that time, as as an alternative of finishing up additional analysis on the 2 per cent of coded DNA, we might now be compelled to delve deeper into all 100 per cent — a significantly extra difficult activity for analysis,” he concludes.

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Materials offered by Lund University. Note: Content could also be edited for model and size.

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