Scientists Successfully Grow Neanderthal Minibrains in Petri Dish

first_imgStay on target Watch: Dolphin Leaps Feet Away From Unsuspecting SurferNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend Researchers have long been looking for clues about one of our closest evolutionary relatives — Neanderthals. Our now-extinct kin has shifted from a presumed earlier form, to a close cousin, to… well still a close cousin, but one that we got a little too close to. Still, even though a good portion of scientists who study the topic now consider neanderthals and humans sister subspecies, there’s still a lot of differences between the two. The brain, in particular, is of prime concern as it… y’know, is kind of the whole thing with us apes. So, to learn more about the development of the Neanderthal brain, as well as what it was actually capable of, scientists have done the truly unbelievable — grown miniature brains of our ancient family.As Science Mag reports in an exclusive, the unity of three bleeding-edge fields — including CRISPR, organs built from stem cells, and the fully sequenced Neanderthal genome — has allowed Alysson Muotri and her lab to pull off an exceptional feat. The work has yet to be published, but it was presented earlier this work at a conference for the University of California, San Diego, where Muotri is a geneticist. In essence, the team used stem cells created with neanderthal into small, pea-sized organs that resemble the cortex, or outermost layer of the brain. The hope is that the team will understand how different regions of the Neanderthal brain fit together, and how they would affect its cognition. This is done by comparing the structures to similar mini-brains made with human DNA to understand where and how they differ.“We’re trying to recreate Neanderthal minds,” Muotri says.To be clear, this is quite far from a full brain. We aren’t (probably) making conscious minds in Petri dishes. These organoids represent a very early stage of brain development, far from anything that could be expected to actually produce thought. Others, including Svante Paabo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and one of the researchers that first sequenced the Neanderthal genome, noted that even the genetics of the project has plenty of hurdles to overcome. “Organoids are far from being able to tell us how adult brains function,” Paabo said, noting that there could be plenty of unintended mutations. “There are lots of control experiments to do, and then I’m quite hopeful we’ll overcome those doubts.”On a much creepier note, though, Muotri, in time, hopes to jack mini human brains into crab-like robots and pit them against robots run by Neanderthal organoids. So… that’s a sentence.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img