Researchers at Leeds have identified the gene which gives us bigger brains – the evolutionary attribute separating us from other animals. The gene came to light during a study by Geoff Woods, Jacquie Bond and Emma Roberts into the disease microcephaly, in which people are born with a smaller brain (and head).
Dr Woods, a clinical geneticist at St Jamess, noticed a high instance of microcephaly among his Pakistani patients. He found that, in the 1960s, a dam project in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir had displaced a large number of people, some of whom came to live in Bradford. Many were from large, inter-related families, making it possible to trace a genetic link to the disease.
The researchers found mutations in a gene known as ASPM, which controls the brain’s growth during foetal development. In microcephalic patients, brain growth slows after 20-30 weeks, so when born, their brains are smaller.
Vanessa Bridge | alfa
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