Big brains are all in the genes

Marie Daniels in PhysOrg:

BigbrainsareScientists have moved a step closer to understanding genetic changes that permitted humans and other mammals to develop such big brains.

Dr Humberto Gutierrez, from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, UK, led research which examined the genomes of 39 species of mammals with the aim of better understanding how brains became larger and more complex in mammals. To do this, the scientists focussed on the size of across these species. Gene families are groups of related genes which share similar characteristics, often linked with common or related . It is believed that large changes in the size of gene families can help to explain why related species evolved along different paths. The researchers found a clear link between increased brain size and the expansion of gene families related to certain biological functions. Dr Gutierrez said: “We found that brain size variations are associated with changes in gene number in a large proportion of families of closely related genes. These gene families are preferentially involved in cell communication and cell movement as well as immune functions and are prominently expressed in the human brain. Our results suggest that changes in gene family size may have contributed to the evolution of larger brains in mammals.”

More here.