Scientists have successfully grown pea-size versions of Neanderthal brains, an advance that may help better understand the species that went extinct about 40,000 years ago.
Cultivating and studying these mini brains may reveal why Neanderthals died out and Homo sapiens went on to conquer much of the planet, researchers said.
Genetic differences between Neanderthal and human brains may explain their demise and our success, said Alysson R. Muotri, director of the University of California, San Diego,U.S.
Researchers compared the genome of Neanderthals with that of modern humans. Out of 200 candidate genes that showed significant differences between the two species, the researchers focussed on a gene expression regulator known as NOVA1.
To grow mini Neanderthal brains, they used the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR to “Neanderthalise” human pluripotent stem cells, or immature cells that can develop into any cell in the body.
Then, using their in-house protocol, “we coaxed the stem cells to become a brain organoid,” Mr. Muotri said.