A new theme in human evolution is making the rounds.  According to the story, a mistake led to the human brain, and the rest is history.

Live Science headlined in bold print, “Did a Copying Mistake Build Man’s Brain?”  (We assume this includes woman’s brain, but this could arouse controversy, depending on whether the mistake is deemed a good or bad thing).  Not to be outdone, New Scientist titled their version in a less sexist way, “One gene helped human brains become complex.”

The provocative headline stems from “new research” from the Scripps Research Institute that identified a gene that appears to result from a gene duplication:

“There are approximately 30 genes that were selectively duplicated in humans,” study researcher Franck Polleux, of The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said in a statement. “These are some of our most recent genomic innovations.”

An extra copy of a gene gives evolution something to work with: Like modeling clay, this gene isn’t essential like the original copy, so changes can be made to it without damaging the resulting organism.

By “selectively duplicated,” Polleux was clearly referring to natural selection, not selection by an intelligent designer wanting to make humans smarter.  The gene, SRGAP2, appears to be involved in the efficient organization of the cerebral cortex.

When the researchers added  the partially duplicated gene copy to the mouse genome (mice don’t normally have it) it seemed to speed the migration of brain cells during development, which makes brain organization more efficient.

The mice, however, were not observed to start writing music or philosophy….

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