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Doubled gene means extra smarts

Change during human evolution could have led to bigger brains

MONTREAL — Bigger, better human brains may be the result of a double dose of a gene that helps brain cells move around.

At least twice in the past 3 million years, a gene called SRGAP2 has been duplicated within the human genome, says Megan Dennis of the University of Washington in Seattle. Dennis and her colleagues have now shown that extra copies of this gene may account for humans’ thicker brain cortex, the brain’s gray matter where thinking takes place. 

The team had previously discovered that SRGAP2 is one of 23 genes duplicated in humans but not in other primates. Dennis found that an ancient form of the gene, which is located on human chromosome 1, was partially duplicated on the same chromosome about 3.4 million years ago. That partial copy makes a shortened version of the SRGAP2 protein.

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