We found the gene that made humans intelligent

Herve Poirier, reditor-in-chief of the science magazine Epsiloon today details the latest research on human intelligence carried out by a team of researchers from the Max-Planck Institute for the Development of Science in Germany.

franceinfo: Researchers have just discovered the gene that made us smarter than chimpanzees. That’s it ?

Herve Poirier: Yes. The gene in question, all humans have it in their genome, but it does not exist in any other primate, in any other animal. And researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany did an experiment worthy of The Planet of the Apes : they inserted this gene into the genome of chimpanzee stem cells, then cultured these cells so that they multiplied and turned into neurons.

Result: after two weeks, they saw the neurons multiply abnormally for a chimpanzee cortex. They even saw these characteristic folds of our brain appear – which are not found in any other animal.

In other words: the gene boosted the production of neurons. Better, they took human stem cells, removed this gene. Result: the artificial mini cortex no longer has any folds. This gene was spotted in 2016, its impact on the number of neurons was highlighted in 2020, and this experiment closes the demonstration: this is the key gene of our intelligence.

The discovery of a gene in humans that does not exist in any other primate.  (EMBOPRESS)

But how did this gene appear?

In two times. Originally, it was a very generic gene, shared by all animals, which was duplicated 7 to 10 million years ago, surely in Africa, in one of our ancestors. Shortly after splitting off from other branches of primates, this gene was found to be duplicated.

Then, in a second step, still in Africa, this double mutated: one of its 25,000 letters was badly copied (by the greatest chance, a C turned into a G). And the protein that was then produced boosted the production of neurons. This individual – male or female, hard to say – did he have headaches? In any case, he knew how to think, feed, seduce, reproduce, better than the others.

His clan has grown, established itself – we are all his ancestors, Neanderthal understood. And the human dominated the whole planet. The history of the world was finally played out to a letter. Funny story, no?

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