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Tiny Blobs of Brain Cells Could Reveal How Your Mind Differs from a Neanderthal’s

In recent years, scientists have figured out how to grow blobs of hundreds of thousands of live human neurons that look — and act — something like a brain.

These so-called brain organoids have been used to study how brains develop into layers, how they begin to spontaneously make electrical waves and even how that development might change in zero gravity. Now researchers are using these pea-size clusters to explore our evolutionary past. Read more

Neanderthal-inspired ‘minibrains’ hint at what makes modern humans special

What is it about DNA that makes the human brain “human?” Seeking to understand how our complex brains evolved, researchers have now switched a single human gene out for its Neanderthal counterpart in brain tissue grown in a lab dish. Changes to the resulting organoid reveal the role this gene may have played in ancient—and modern—brain development. Read more

Neanderthal-like ‘mini-brains’ created in lab with CRISPR
Nature | February 11, 2021

Researchers have created tiny, brain-like ‘organoids’ that contain a gene variant harboured by two extinct human relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans. The tissues, made by engineering human stem cells, are far from being true representations of these species’ brains — but they show distinct differences from human organoids, including size, shape and texture. The findings, published1 in Science on 11 February, could help scientists to understand the genetic pathways that allowed human brains to evolve. Read more

Neandertalized ‘Mini Brains’ Yield Clues to Modern Human Uniqueness
Scientific America | February 11, 2021

We take it for granted that Homo sapiens is the only human species in existence, but it didn’t use to be this way. From the origin of our species a few hundred thousand years ago until a few tens of thousands of years ago, multiple human species shared the planet with our own. What distinguished H. sapiens from other members of the human family, and why did our lineage alone survive to the present day? Scientists have long sought answers to these questions in the fossil and archaeological records. More recently they have started mining the genomes of living and extinct humans—including the Neandertals—for clues. Read more

SAN DIEGO — Two hundred and fifty miles over Alysson Muotri’s head, a thousand tiny spheres of brain cells were sailing through space. Read more

Autism Researcher Alysson Muotri's Audacious Plans for Brain Orgranoids
Spectrum News | August 12, 2019

It is nearly sunset, and Alysson Muotri ducks into a small, cluttered room in his expansive laboratory at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in La Jolla, California. An incubator the size of a mini-fridge houses unusual residents — and he wants to make introductions. Read more

Exclusive: Neanderthal ‘minibrains’ Grown in Dish
Science | June 20, 2018

Until now, researchers wanting to understand the Neanderthal brain and how it differed from our own had to study a void. The best insights into the neurology of our mysterious, extinct relatives came from analyzing the shape and volume of the spaces inside their fossilized skulls. Read more

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Support stem cell research at UC San Diego under the direction of the Program Director. Currently under the direction of Alysson Muotri, Ph.D. (Fund Number: 4010)

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