There’s little question that humans are the most intelligent beings on the planet. Even our closest relatives, chimpanzees, are significantly less intelligent. However, we’ve been in the dark as the actual reason for our higher intelligence. Humans and chimpanzees are almost identical at a genetic level. However, their neural development lags significantly behind humans.
Researchers at Duke theorized that the greater neural development in humans comes from bits of DNA called enhancers. These enhancers influence the expression of specific genes. The scientists compared the genome of humans and chimpanzees in order to find differences in enhancer DNA. They found some promising enhancers in a region which influences brain development and growth.
The researchers were excited to discover that a similar pattern exists within mice. They then inserted a copy of the human enhancer gene into the mouse. During gestation, the mice showed something quite amazing. Their brain development was dramatically increased.
What’s even more significant is where the brain development took place. While every part of the brain is important, higher reasoning is mostly centralized within a region called the neocortex.
Greater development in other areas of the brain might influence behavior. However, the effect it would have on general reasoning would be limited. Enhancing development of the neocortex might show greater and more significant changes. Paul Mathieson knows that these changes might also shed new light on what makes humans so smart.