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Scientists discover how human brains grow larger than other apes

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A study has discovered how humans develop larger brains than other apes.

Researchers identified a key molecular switch that can make ape brain organoids grow more like human organoids, and vice versa.

The study compared brain organoids – 3D tissues grown from stem cells which model early brain development – grown from human, gorilla and chimpanzee stem cells.

Researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge found that similar to actual brains, the human brain organoids grew a lot larger than those from other apes.

Dr Madeline Lancaster from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, who led the study, said: “This provides some of the first insight into what is different about the developing human brain that sets us apart from our closest living relatives, the other great apes.

“The most striking difference between us and other apes is just how incredibly big our brains are.”

During the early stages of brain development, neurons are made by stem cells called neural progenitors.

These progenitor cells initially have a cylindrical shape that makes it easy for them to split into identical daughter cells with the same shape.

The more times the neural progenitor cells multiply at this stage, the more neurons there will be later.

As the cells mature and slow their multiplication, they elongate, forming a shape like a stretched ice-cream cone.

Previous research in mice had shown that their neural progenitor cells mature into a conical shape and slow their multiplication within hours.

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