Magazine article Science News

The DNA Divide: Chimps, People Differ in Brain's Gene Activity

Magazine article Science News

The DNA Divide: Chimps, People Differ in Brain's Gene Activity

Article excerpt

People and chimpanzees are almost identical when it comes to their DNA sequences, a sure sign of close evolutionary ties. A new study suggests that the distinctive looks and thinking styles of these two primate groups derive from the contrasting productivities of their similar DNA sequences.

The same genes that unleash a cascade of messenger molecules and proteins in human brain tissue yield a relatively modest flow of the same substances in chimp brains, says geneticist Svante Paabo of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

During the evolution of Homo sapiens, the brain probably experienced accelerated changes to accommodate so great a surge of genetic products, Paabo and his colleagues assert. Their study appears in the April 12 Science.

The scientists examined the responses of white blood cells and liver and brain tissue to individual DNA sequences isolated from nearly 18,000 human genes. They used blood and tissue samples removed during autopsies from people, chimps, rhesus monkeys, and an orangutan, all of whom had died of natural causes.

In liver and blood samples, humans and chimps exhibited similar concentrations of messenger RNA, molecules copied from DNA that take part in generating proteins. Tissue from monkeys and the orangutan harbored less messenger RNA.

A starkly different pattern emerged in the brain. Humans displayed the greatest concentration of messenger RNA in this tissue. Chimps and monkeys showed lower levels of these molecules.

Considerable individual differences emerged, the researchers note. …

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