Here’s what would have given modern humans an edge over Neanderthals, study finds

Studies in the past have shown it: the brains of Neanderthals were the same as those of modern humans. In contrast, scientists know very little about early brain development, because the soft tissues that made them up don’t preserve well in found fossils. But a study published on September 8 could say more about what would have given modern man an advantage, reports CNN.

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An ability to produce more neurons?

According to this study conducted by the Max Planck Institute in Dresden, Germany, which specializes in molecular cell biology and genetics, a genetic mutation would have triggered the creation of neurons more quickly in the brain of Homo sapiens. An amino acid would be the element that differs between the human and Neanderthal variant. “We have detected a gene that helps make us human“, revealed the author of the study, and professor emeritus of the institute, Wieland Huttner. The scientists carried out analyzes on mice and discovered that by inserting the gene in question, it increased the proportion of cells specific that create neurons in the neocortex region of the brain.

This ability to produce more neurons arguably gave Homo sapiens a cognitive advantage regardless of brain size. “This shows that even though we don’t know how many neurons the Neanderthal brain was made up of, we can assume that modern humans have more neurons in the frontal lobe of the brain,” Wieland Huttner said. Scientists wondered if the Neanderthals’ frontal lobe was as large as humans, but ultimately the question was begged, as modern humans have more neurons in the frontal lobe.

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“Dramatic differences” on a cell line

Professor at the University of California, San Diego, and director of the stem cell program and the Archeology center, Alysson Muotri explains that “quite dramatic” differences were noted during animal tests, but that they were more subtle in organoids. He also points out that it would be useful to do this experiment in another cell line, which is why, according to him, it is “premature to note differences between Neanderthals and modern man”.

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