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'Master Gene' Makes Mouse Brain Look More Human

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the rats-of-nimh-become-real dept.

Science 121

sciencehabit writes "Researchers have found a genetic mutation that causes mammalian neural tissue to expand and fold. When they mutated this gene in mice, the rodents developed brains that look more like ours (abstract). The discovery may help explain why humans evolved more elaborate brains than mice, and it could suggest ways to treat disorders such as autism and epilepsy that arise from abnormal neural development. The findings go against a common conception that 'dumber species will have different genes' for brain development than more intelligent species, Borrell says. He adds that the mechanism could help explain how New World monkeys, with their small, smooth brains, could have evolved from an ancestor with a bigger and more folded brain."

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121 comments

Disappointed. (5, Funny)

Dahamma (304068) | about a year ago | (#43565039)

I was somehow hoping this study was done at NIMH.

Re:Disappointed. (4, Insightful)

fractoid (1076465) | about a year ago | (#43565271)

Perfect. :) The bit I don't get is how "a genetic mutation that causes mammalian neural tissue to expand and fold" disproves "'dumber species will have different genes'? Since, well, it's a gene that's different. Also, conflating folding of the neural tissues with intelligence (rather than simply viewing it as a necessary precursor) sounds like the modern version of "men are more intelligent than women because their brains weigh more."

Re:Disappointed. (3, Interesting)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about a year ago | (#43565449)

... conflating folding of the neural tissues with intelligence (rather than simply viewing it as a necessary precursor) sounds like the modern version of "men are more intelligent than women because their brains weigh more"

Very true !!!

Even amongst the humans, there are some who are very intelligent and then there are some who are very very stupid

As humans, both the very intelligent and the very very stupid have brains which fold --- which indicates that it's not the folding of the brain which gives rise of intelligence

Re:Disappointed. (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#43566761)

There are a multitude of other things that can go wrong with brain development or otherwise cause you to be stupid. For instance, lead poisoning as a child or being raised by creationists and attending prayer meetings where rattlesnakes are handled.

Re:Disappointed. (3, Insightful)

foniksonik (573572) | about a year ago | (#43567753)

Even the stupidest, most retarded or genetically impoverished human is orders of magnitude more sentient and "intelligent" than 99.999% of the other species on the planet.

Re:Disappointed. (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year ago | (#43566643)

The bit I don't get is how "a genetic mutation that causes mammalian neural tissue to expand and fold" disproves "'dumber species will have different genes'? Since, well, it's a gene that's different.

It's a poorly worded sentence. The theory is that having a more intelligent and more complex brain requires significantly more complex genes to develop. A single gene making such a big change means that the genetic instructions for the "smart" and "dumb" variations are actually encoded into both genomes, and just require this "master gene" to activate them.

What makes this significant is that it may contradict our current theories of evolutionary history. Finding turned-off intelligence in "dumb" mammals suggests that at some point in the past, a common ancestor had evolved to be smarter, but that intelligence was lost for the "dumb" branch.

Re:Disappointed. (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#43568271)

Erk... as someone who's at least cursorily looked at genes related to intelligence, let me tidy that up for you.

Human intelligence depends on a lot of very strange mutations that are unique to humans. We know with certainty that these mutations happened very recently because all of the other animals have very similar genes in the same area. For the functionality to have been lost, it would have had to disappear every time we split from another animal, and vanish in the exact same way. Before you know it you've slit your own wrists with Occam's razor.

The protein product of the gene in question, TRNP1, determines how much and how quickly neural stem cells replicate. In the human brain, we have an unusual quirk that says they need to replicate excessively, which causes the final brain tissue to bunch up into its distinctive fold patterns. The brain's weird structure is just the product of stuffing it into too small a place. There are definitely other genes involved in exploiting this unusual shape, however, (like HAR1 [wikipedia.org]) so it's not the whole story.

Re:Disappointed. (1)

fractoid (1076465) | about a year ago | (#43569111)

Thanks. When people reply to me, even indirectly, the best ones are with science, because then that gives me something to look up which will actually mean things. Keep up the good work and ty again.

Re:Disappointed. (1)

mikael (484) | about a year ago | (#43568413)

The ways brains are organized, is that you have the actual processing (gray matter) on the outer 2.5 millimeters of the brain , while all the interconnections (white matter) are in the center of the brain. The wrinkling helps to boost short-distance connections. Look for pictures on "diffusion tensor imaging" to get pictures of these connections. There was some research carried out that indicated that indicated that the length of the connections and thickness of the gray matter influenced a persons abilities in whatever part of the brain that region was responsible for.

Re:Disappointed. (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#43566731)

Perfect. :) The bit I don't get is how "a genetic mutation that causes mammalian neural tissue to expand and fold" disproves "'dumber species will have different genes'? Since, well, it's a gene that's different. Also, conflating folding of the neural tissues with intelligence (rather than simply viewing it as a necessary precursor) sounds like the modern version of "men are more intelligent than women because their brains weigh more."

There's no data showing that it's even a necessary precursor or has anything to do with growing a smarter brain. Surely humans are born with a defect in that gene sometimes. Are they dumb?

Re:Disappointed. (1)

fractoid (1076465) | about a year ago | (#43569131)

Surely humans are born with a defect in that gene sometimes. Are they dumb?

Probably. Humans are born dumb for a whole bunch of reasons that will someday be easily fixed by science. :(

This same point confused me momentarily, but.. (1)

bdwoolman (561635) | about a year ago | (#43566891)

what they seem to have discovered is that one and the same gene in each species can mutate in a different way and cause two different brain types. That is a single gene mutates rather than two separate and unique genes. From TFA:

"Because the human cerebral cortex is generally considered "special," some scientists have hypothesized that the genes that govern its development of cortical folds and furrows are also unique to humans..."

Apparently these scientists hypothesized wrong.

I for one welcome our new rodent overlords.

Re:This same point confused me momentarily, but.. (1)

mikael (484) | about a year ago | (#43568453)

A lot of tissue growth and development is controlled by reaction-diffusion equations. In two dimensions you get patterns like infinite growing spots, spots, stripes, labyrinths, branching and spirals. In three dimensions you get infinite growing spheres, spots, spot-splitting, sheets, 3D tube labyrinths and scroll waves. In between infinite growing spheres and labyrinths you get wrinkled brains. You can model this using the Gray-Scott reaction diffusion system. Just a single change in ratios of a single chemical gives you a totally different shape.

Re:This same point confused me momentarily, but.. (1)

fractoid (1076465) | about a year ago | (#43569149)

Anyone who's worked with chaotic system simulations would be amazed if your answer were any different.

Re:Disappointed. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43567529)

In the realm of comparative anatomy, "intelligence" is thought to be increased with both mass (to body ratio) and by area [brynmawr.edu] of the neocortex [wikipedia.org], called lissencephaly [wikipedia.org]. The area of the neocortex is increased by brain folding,much like the surface area of the small bowel is increased by folds and vili and micro vili.

Genes are only one part of the development process - mutations in genes can add or delete function. Promoters in DNA control how those genes are expressed. A "good" gene can be present, but under expressed by a weak promoter. What they did was essential weaken the promoter of the gene Trnp1 which allowed the mouse brain to form more gyri and become more human like.

In neo-classical scientific tradition, actually testing the intelligence will, likely, be done in a second experiment so that they can get another paper out of this finding.

Re:Disappointed. (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#43568703)

In the realm of comparative anatomy, "intelligence" is thought to be increased with both mass (to body ratio)

Does the body somehow hinder intelligence, or why is it assumed that a brain of the same mass is less intelligent if it sits in a larger body?

Re:Disappointed. (1)

fractoid (1076465) | about a year ago | (#43569161)

Excellent question. I doubt you'll get a good answer because the implication that you are questioning is probably wrong.

Re:Disappointed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43567989)

Well -- the gene that they found is the gene for controlling neural tissue growth. It's not different among different animals, it's just that it's more strongly expressed in animals with larger brains than in animals with smaller brains. This gene would be analogous to one, for example, that controls muscle growth. Such a gene would be more strongly expressed in big cats, and much more weakly expressed in rabbits. It's the same gene, but it's just expressed differently in different creatures.

The point about "disproving" that genes are different is just that a feasible competing theory would be that the genes that controls our brain (including the gene that controls neural tissue growth) are unique, and completely different than the genes that control the brain of "dumber species." In at least one case, the gene that controls our brain is the same as the gene that controls the brain of "dumber species."

The discovery is simply that mutations in other animals that cause this brain tissue growth gene to be expressed more strongly would cause more brain tissue to grow in that species. Of course, this doesn't mean that the animal would be more well adapted to their environment and therefore that such a mutuation would survive the natural selection process. It also doesn't necessarily mean that the animal would be "smarter" in any detectable way -- although this certainly might be true.

I think the real point to remember in all of this is that the evolution of intelligence in humans was an incredibly complex process that did not rely on the mutation of a single gene. Genes for brain structures for all of our different areas of intelligence had to be properly tuned before the benefits of a larger brain could be realized in a way that led to the survival by natural selection of such genes. For example, we probably needed to develop brain structures that controlled our hands (so that we could build tools, for example), our vision (to better perceive the external world), our hearing, and various other genes. We also needed to develop genes outside of the brain that could lead to the survival of humans with larger brains. For example, mutations in cardiovascular genes to provide more blood and oxygen to our energy hungry brains, mutations in bone structure around the brain, and other mutations were probably all required. Further still, we had to develop certain features for actually allowing babies with larger brains to be born. Females with wider pelvises for passing a larger head, the birth of babies before full development of the head we required so that babies with larger heads could actually be born.

Re:Disappointed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43568481)

Brains are built from cortical columns [wikipedia.org] - it takes thousands of neurons to make a single cortical column. Human brains have two million, used in everything from audio processing to vision and other senses. Each eye has about a thousand after pre-processing from the retina.

What are we going to do tonight Brain? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565051)

Same thing we do every night Pinky - try to take over the world.

Re:What are we going to do tonight Brain? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565075)

i, for one, welcome our new rodent overlords.

Knowledge is worth pursuing (4, Interesting)

Dorianny (1847922) | about a year ago | (#43565071)

I wish journalists would stop including the mandatory bit about how this might lead to such and such practical applications when reporting on scientific discoveries. Knowledge is worth pursuing even if it doesn't lead to any practical applications.

Re:Knowledge is worth pursuing (3, Insightful)

rusty0101 (565565) | about a year ago | (#43565173)

Yes it is, however scientists and reporters covering science research have no shortage of evidence demonstrating that if they don't provide concrete possible practical applications, the public perception is that scientists are getting research funding that they are squandering in the science equivalent of the $56,000 hammer sold to the military. Now if you want all research that is worth pursuing even if it doesn't lead to any practical applications receive that treatment, I'm pretty sure that there will be a large number of people willing to encourage the lambasting.

Re:Knowledge is worth pursuing (0)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#43566985)

... the public perception is that scientists are getting research funding that they are squandering in the science equivalent of the $56,000 hammer sold to the military...

What makes you think they're wrong?

Re: Knowledge is worth pursuing (1)

Matt Seitz (2909075) | about a year ago | (#43566565)

Practical applications increase the worth of pursuing the knowledge. Including that information helps me evaluate how much the knowledge is worth.

New World monkeys (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565077)

No need for name calling. Treat our American friends with respect, please.

Re:New World monkeys (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about a year ago | (#43565467)

Especially implying that all Americans are autistic due to their smooth brains is stretching it a bit.

Re:New World monkeys (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565541)

Hey, what'd you expect to happen to use what with all that botox we've been injecting into our brains to help smooth out the wrinkles? A mind's gotta look it's best when it's going to be out in public!

Re:New World monkeys (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43566541)

What did you just call OBama?

pinky and the brain (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565095)

they will take over the world!

Fear the day ... (1, Insightful)

Skapare (16644) | about a year ago | (#43565101)

... when the mice become self-aware.

Re:Fear the day ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565139)

... when the mice become self-aware.

I can predict their first conversation:
"-Gee, what do you want to do tonight?
"-The same thing we do every night, —try to take over the world!"

Re:Fear the day ... (1)

Nyder (754090) | about a year ago | (#43565149)

... when the mice become self-aware.

I'm more scared of the day when the mice decide human meat is the best way to feed their species.

Re:Fear the day ... (1)

mikael (484) | about a year ago | (#43568501)

But humans make useful servants. What other species on the planet has managed to get another species a hundred times larger than themselves to bring them food, water and clean their homes for them?

Re:Fear the day ... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#43568741)

But humans make useful servants. What other species on the planet has managed to get another species a hundred times larger than themselves to bring them food, water and clean their homes for them?

Go into the next pet shop, and you'll find a few.

Re:Fear the day ... (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year ago | (#43565337)

... when the mice become self-aware.

Are you implying that they're not aware of themselves? I mean, they are obviously self aware. They just have less awareness than you. Try not to apply such terms in a chauvinistic manner. You're not that special, and the article supports this assertion.

Re:Fear the day ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565637)

Ah, but doesn't WIlliam Lane Craig claim that no animal is self-aware; that animals in pain are just play-acting a dumb brute mime of the pain which we, as the Lords of Creation, truly feel?

Fucking primitives.

Re:Fear the day ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565477)

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Re:Fear the day ... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year ago | (#43565481)

... when the mice become self-aware.

Don't worry, the self-aware machines will help keep them under control.

What are we gonna do tonight... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565105)

Should be called the Pinky gene

Slow night (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565133)

No "Flowers for Algeron" jokes yet.

Re:Slow night (2)

Dahamma (304068) | about a year ago | (#43565261)

Screw Charlie, I somehow accidentally got the first post yet apparently no one on ./ knows who Mrs. Frisbee is...

Re:Slow night (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43566435)

For those who don't know, this article is the premise for the story [wikipedia.org].

Re:Slow night (1)

igny (716218) | about a year ago | (#43567095)

What is even more disturbing, no 42 jokes yet. This is one of those complex experiments mice are running on humans, you know.

Re:Slow night (1)

LoadWB (592248) | about a year ago | (#43567467)

Definitely a good read. I thought this right away. As rescuers sift through the rubble of what once was the research lab at Ludwig Maximilian University, they will uncover a journal with the sentence

"Algernon bit me today."

So I take it scientists will create FEV next? (1)

asm2750 (1124425) | about a year ago | (#43565235)

Welp, better get my plasma rifle and powered armor ready for the coming hordes of super mutants.

disappointment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565237)

Very disappointed at the suggestion that autism is a "disorder".

Re:disappointment (2)

Opportunist (166417) | about a year ago | (#43565463)

Didn't you get the memo? Everything not fitting into the generally accepted definition of "normal" must be adjusted. Just wait 10 years and we'll have pills that make you smarter and maybe also pills that make you dumber but happier.

It's kinda like a mix between Harrison Bergeron and Brave New World...

Re:disappointment (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#43567031)

Didn't you get the memo? Everything not fitting into the generally accepted definition of "normal" must be adjusted. Just wait 10 years and we'll have pills that make you smarter and maybe also pills that make you dumber but happier.

It's kinda like a mix between Harrison Bergeron and Brave New World...

... and the ones your mother gives you don't do anything at all.

Re:disappointment (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year ago | (#43565489)

Very disappointed at the suggestion that autism is a "disorder".

I prefer to think of us as "alternatively saned".

Re:disappointment (2)

lxs (131946) | about a year ago | (#43565629)

Tell that to the kids and grown-ups hugging their blankets and succumbing to blind panic if lunch is five minutes late.

Prepare the maze. (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43565277)

I want to know if the folding increases their intelligence in any measurable way.

Re:Prepare the maze. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565311)

Don't need that mutation in the wild -- they're hard enough already to catch when they invade your home.

Re:Prepare the maze. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565655)

It might be kind of funny to watch the new race of supermice macgyvering their way past your IR alarm system, robot sentry guns and, oh horrors! the refrigerator door handle. I for one, would welcome our new whiskered, cheese-eating overlords.

To be honest, we should apply this as a retroviral patch to every creature in Nature for which it takes. We could do with a higher standard of competition.

Use cases (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565345)

People already commented on how it's annoying that reporters always need to come up with some practical application for any given news about research, when the simple research would be enough.. But instead of suggesting that this research leads to better understanding of evolution, which is already in declining popularity among muggles thanks to the Christian Right, why not suggest that these mutant mice could make better human analogues, and help test treatments against brain disease?

Re:Use cases (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year ago | (#43565495)

why not suggest that these mutant mice could make better human analogues, and help test treatments against brain disease?

What's next, crash test smarties?

Re:Use cases (1)

Stoutlimb (143245) | about a year ago | (#43567109)

here is a great use case... Human foetuses can be made with just this one gene flipped, so now babies can be made strictly for the purpose of organ donation. Since the brain would be the equivalent of a rodent's, there wouldn't be as much of a moral quandary.

Re:Use cases (1)

Gort65 (1464371) | about a year ago | (#43567885)

Hmm... this genetic mutation could also be used to explain how the humans in Planet of the Apes became like animals.

Brain horrors! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565413)

Sorry, I didn't notice the obviously expected part where the mice scream. Where they scream endlessly and in complete, utter horror over their brains developing themselves into completely alien shapes, introducing impossibly horrifying images completely unknown to mousekind, redefining the very basis of the word "wrong". Terrible thoughts brought on by the interloping existence of a human brain into its own awareness, bringing with it unstoppable, infinite nightmares of tax forms, awkward dates, skinning your knees falling off of a bicycle, and the full realization of the Doritos Loco Taco. And the mouse knows it is all wrong. The hopeless, quickly vanishing parts of the mouse's brain that is a mouse's brain can only see wrong. The only possible response is to scream. A primal, universal scream of which all life, all of existence understands, the final, desperate attempt to repel what should not be, what cannot be. But the mouse cannot even scream. The mouse lacks the vocal cords to scream. Without this, without even the basest of mental defenses, it is forced to endure the full onslaught of human thought with no recourse, unable to even question the eldritch meaning of a taco made from goddamned Doritos, I mean seriously, come ON now.

What are we going to do today? (2)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | about a year ago | (#43565483)

What are we going to do today Brain? Same as we do every day Pinky, try to conquer the world!

Re:What are we going to do today? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43566103)

What are we going to do today Brain? Same as we do every day Pinky, try to conquer the world!

It's "try to TAKE OVER the world!"
You can hand in your geek card at the door.

Re:What are we going to do today? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43566213)

Try? There is no try. Do, or do not.

100 years from now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565497)

100 years from now, the human race will label us traitors to the species for not nuking these mice from orbit.

Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (2, Interesting)

Opportunist (166417) | about a year ago | (#43565501)

It was not necessary.

Do you know what that thing between our ears "costs" our body? 20% of our total energy output is gobbled up by that thing! For 2% of the body mass. It better be effin' worth it!

Evolution will never allow something that's not strictly beneficial for survival and reproduction to prevail. A bigger brain needs more food, and in times of shortages, mice who would evolve a bigger brain would starve to death first. They don't win anything from higher intelligence, on the other hand.

We did. Mostly because we are, essentially speaking, a big evolutionary mistake. We shouldn't exist anymore, honestly. We're terrible at staying alive. We can't run fast, we're not strong, we can't hide easily, we have no fur or feathers to keep us warm (which means we have to burn a LOT of calories just to heat up the air around us in cold periods!)... We are, essentially, an evolutionary mistake. If it wasn't for that brain that allowed us to develop tools to compensate our shortcomings. In our species, higher intelligence actually meant better chances of survival. Yes, our brain costs a fortune to support and "run" it (and if our body was a corporation it would have been axed years ago), but the advantages outweigh that.

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565667)

If only we could fix things such that the giant, tasty energy hog actually *worked* properly for the majority of people. It would make for an interesting world.

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565719)

We're actually quite adept at running long distances at medium speeds; enough to run a deer or antilope to the ground. You can still see it in effect - a lot of ground-bound animals wouldn't manage a marathon (even at scale, however you want to scale it).

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565855)

I cannot believe how stupid you are and it's painful to see you got "Score: 3" for it.
We're awesome at staying alive.

> If it wasn't for that brain that allowed us to develop
> tools to compensate our shortcomings.

Here's where you're so wrong: it's the other way around.
We used to be stronger but we figured out how to use tools and weapons, so we no longer need to be powerhouses ourselves.
We used to have fur/feathers to keep us warm, but that shit was no longer necessary when we started using animal fur and all that, so our bodies changed.
We can't hide easily? Can an Elephant hide easily? WTF are talking about, man. You mean we grew and are no longer the size of an ant?
Basically, your hole post is an insult of human intelligence.
You really need to start clicking some links here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolution

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43566085)

Evolution will never allow something that's not strictly beneficial for survival and reproduction to prevail.

And then you go on and say we are a big evolutionary mistake. Last time I checked, we are still surviving and reproducing. How is that a mistake?

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43566091)

Great points. One thing to point out though is that humans can outrun every other creature on Earth because we have great endurance if not speed.

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43566165)

Uh huh, humans fly south for the winter every year in one shot. Yup, we've got endurance.

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43566387)

Running can be considerably harder than flying. Migratory birds can and do *glide* for very long parts of their journey, the energy expenditure would be ridiculous if they couldn't use thermals and prevailing winds.

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43567149)

Uh huh, humans fly south for the winter every year in one shot. Yup, we've got endurance.

Hmmm, what planet are you posting from?

On this one, whenever a human needs to, he can actually fly damn near anywhere on the planet. And do it MUCH faster than any other animal that has ever lived.

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43566347)

... Mostly because we are, essentially speaking, a big evolutionary mistake.

BULLSHIT

We shouldn't exist anymore, honestly. We're terrible at staying alive.

Must be why there are 6+ BILLION humans spread over the ENTIRE FUCKING PLANET

We can't run fast,

Wrong. There aren't all that many land animals that can cover long distances faster than humans.

we're not strong,

Wrong. Humans are stronger than wolves. A good-sized wolf can't THROW a human. Yet any decently-strong human can actually pick up and throw a full-grown wolf.

Of course, getting bit might be a problem, but that can be avoided.

we can't hide easily,

Wrong.

we have no fur or feathers to keep us warm (which means we have to burn a LOT of calories just to heat up the air around us in cold periods!)...

Irrelevant. Besides, neither do a lot of other large mammals.

We are, essentially, an evolutionary mistake. ...

Oxymoron at best. Meaningless babble at worst.

Evolution makes no "mistakes" - evolution is not directed, it has no goal.

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year ago | (#43566787)

20% of our total energy output is gobbled up by that thing!

So are fat folks just not using their brains enough . . . ?

I bet a lot of dieters would be delighted to hear that they can just think away their excess weight!

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (2)

knarf (34928) | about a year ago | (#43566969)

A bigger brain needs more food, and in times of shortages, mice who would evolve a bigger brain would starve to death first.

Assuming that those bigger brains led to more intelligent mice...

They don't win anything from higher intelligence, on the other hand.

...I think you're wrong there. More intelligent mice would be the ones most likely to get the remaining food. Sure, they need a bit more food to keep their bodies functioning, but they are well-equipped to out-smart the other mice to that food.

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43567539)

This assumes that there is food to which a way can be thought. During true starvation times, there might only be very limited food, and it might be very obvious. It could be the depths of winter in the wilderness and all that's left is to chew on bark. The mice can't just stay outside longer to eat more because the cold will kill them. The dumber mice will be able to burrow under the snow, go to sleep, wait a while, and just get food when they need it, while the smarter mice will need to keep going back for more, thus dying from exposure. And even when the cold wouldn't get them, they'd be exposed to equally-hungry predators for longer as well.

Nowadays, in a city, the smarter mice might have an advantage because humans always seem to have more food around, but these evolutionary events didn't happen "nowadays" they happened back when it was just the mice and the wilderness.

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43567085)

Evolution will never allow something that's not strictly beneficial for survival and reproduction to prevail.

Well no, that's not quite how it works. It will tend to reduce the prevalence of things which are counter-productive to reproduction, and increase the prevalence of things that have a positive impact. This is an important distinction - neutral mutations, for example, don't come into it. Equally, survival is not in itself important, only reproductive success (although clearly, the separation between these is far from absolute).
Inevitably it is more complicated than that, because you cannot realistically consider the evolution of organisms in isolation from their environment (including the other evolving organisms therein).

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43567153)

... We can't run fast, we're not strong, we can't hide easily, we have no fur or feathers to keep us warm (which means we have to burn a LOT of calories just to heat up the air around us in cold periods!)... We are, essentially, an evolutionary mistake. ...

Actually we are able to long distance run better than any other animal on earth, so a good hunting strategy for humans is to just run after animals until they are too tired. We have a greater amount of throwing strength than any other animal, which makes throwing rocks a valid hunting strategy. Our combined abilities to climb, swim, and sprint allow us to escape predators, most of which can only do one or two of those three. Even if we didn't have our brainpower, we would be successful mid-tier predators and scavengers in temperate climates. The Homo genetic line didn't one day become super-geniuses compared to other animals. The extra brain power only allowed us to go from a niche predator to an apex predator.

Re:Why didn't they evolve a "better" brain? Easy (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year ago | (#43568301)

We did. Mostly because we are, essentially speaking, a big evolutionary mistake. We can't run fast, we're not strong, we can't hide easily, we have no fur or feathers to keep us warm (which means we have to burn a LOT of calories just to heat up the air around us in cold periods!

No, evolution does not make mistakes. Because evolution does not have a goal, does not have place to reach. When there is no right way for it to work, there can not be a wrong way. So by its very nature what evolution does can not be called right or wrong.

We have not been leopard food for at least the last 15 million years. What is the proof? None of the greater apes have a life span less than 30 years. Animals that can die for no fault of them, purely due to chance, no matter how good they are in whatever survival strategy they follow die young. Insects, mice, most prey animals. Even predators that use the high risk chases die of accidents. Their life span is limited. Species that have control of their life, slow down. Elephants, rhinoceri, hippopotamus, great aps, larger birds, they have no predators, that is how they live that long. So we have been at the top of the food chain for at least 15 million years, since the great ape lines branched off from rest of the primates. Did you know all living things have exactly the same length of life in terms of heart beats. All animals get about 2 billion heartbeats of life.

Great news! (1)

Njovich (553857) | about a year ago | (#43565565)

So I will finally be able to buy mouse-brain humans for chores around the house?

Re:Great news! (1)

loufoque (1400831) | about a year ago | (#43565721)

You mean like we used to be able to buy humans for chores around the house?
How long before mouse slavery is banned too?

Re:Great news! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565813)

No. After folding the brains of mice, the mice will flatten the human brains, and will buy humans for chores around there house.

If an animal with a human brain was created (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43565713)

How would its emotional state be affected by learning of the humans' treatments of its species?

I've got the reverse mutation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43566129)

I've got the penis genes of a mouse. Thanks, nature.

I am abhorred. (1)

fishybell (516991) | about a year ago | (#43566273)

Finally, a real piece of scientific literature is put up with a well written summary, and the beasts that still live within slashdot have wrought forth an utter filth. Seriously?

Do you know what that thing between our ears "costs" our body? 20% of our total energy output is gobbled up by that thing! For 2% of the body mass. It better be effin' worth it!"

Is marked as interesting. I'm sorry. If science is all laser beams are pew pew awesome, then fine. Whatever. I dig it. But this is actual science. You should be begging for more of this shit, and less of the shit I see here before me.

Misleading title (1)

Down_in_the_Park (721993) | about a year ago | (#43567277)

It wasn't a mutation they talk about in this paper but rather a gene that is different expressed in mice and Human. This little difference leads to remarkable different brain size. It is a big step towards understanding why our brain has this huge cortex (which is folded) and it is this cortex where all our higher brain functions are located, Math, language, etc. Of course a big brain is not necessary more intelligent than a smaller brain, but given the right input while its develops it is far superior to every other brain. For prove see history...

Pinky and the brain (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43569173)

Now this will happend!!!! :-)
http://www.doomsteaddiner.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/pinky_brain.jpg

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