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Human brain is still evolving

two genes among a large number of primate species and searched for sequence differences between humans and nonhuman primates. By doing statistical analysis on these sequence differences, they could demonstrate that the differences were due to natural selection that drove significant sequence changes in the lineage leading to humans. These changes accumulated presumably because they conferred some competitive advantage.

The evidence that Microcephalin and ASPM were evolving under strong natural selection in the lineage leading to humans led Lahn and his colleagues to consider exploring whether these two genes are still evolving under selection in modern human populations. "In the earlier studies, we looked at differences that had already been set in the human genome," he said. "The next logical question was to ask whether the same process is still going on today, given that these genes have been under such strong selective pressure, leading to the accumulation of advantageous changes in the human lineage. If that is the case, we reasoned we might be able to see variants within the human population that are rising in frequency due to positive selection, but haven't gone to completion yet."

The researchers first sequenced the two genes in an ethnically diverse selection of about 90 individuals. The researchers also sequenced the genes in the chimpanzee, to determine the "ancestral" state of polymorphisms in the genes and to assess the extent of human-chimpanzee divergence.

In each gene, the researchers found distinctive sets of polymorphisms, which are sequence differences between different individuals. Blocks of linked polymorphisms are called haplotypes, whereby each haplotype is, in essence, a distinct genetic variant of the gene. They found that they could further break the haplotypes down into related variants called haplogroups. Their analysis indicated that for each of the two genes, one haplogroup occurs at a frequency far higher than t
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Source:Howard Hughes Medical Institute


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