The emergence of individuality in genetically identical mice

From Kurzweil AI:

Cage-designHow do people and other organisms evolve into individuals that are distinguished from others by their own personal brain structure and behavior? Why do identical twins not resemble each other perfectly even when they grew up together? To shed light on these questions, the scientists observed 40 genetically identical mice that were kept in an enclosure that offered a rich shared environment with a large variety of activity and exploration options. They showed that individual experiences influence the development of new neurons in mice, leading to measurable changes in the brain. “The animals were not only genetically identical, they were also living in the same environment,” explained principal investigator Gerd Kempermann, Professor for Genomics of Regeneration, CRTD, and Site Speaker of the DZNE in Dresden. “However, this environment was so rich that each mouse gathered its own individual experiences in it. Over time, the animals therefore increasingly differed in their realm of experience and behavior.” Each of the mice was equipped with a special microchip emitting electromagnetic signals. This allowed the scientists to construct the mice movement profiles and quantify their exploratory behavior.

The result: despite a common environment and identical genes, the mice showed highly individualized behavioral patterns. In the course of the three-month experiment, these differences increased in size.

“These differences were associated with differences in the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that supports learning and memory,” said Kempermann “Animals that explored the environment to a greater degree also grew more new neurons than animals that were more passive.” Adult neurogenesis [generation of new neurons] in the hippocampus allows the brain to react to new information flexibly. With this study, the authors show for the first time that personal experiences and ensuing behavior contribute to the “individualization of the brain.” The individualization they observed cannot be reduced to differences in environment or genetic makeup. “Adult neurogenesis also occurs in the hippocampus of humans,” said Kempermann. “Hence we assume that we have tracked down a neurobiological foundation for individuality that also applies to humans.”

More here.