Brainstorming the Future of Primate Brain Evolution Research

The following post is a departure from my usual reporting on an interesting primate related tidbit of research. I’ll be posting about how I have thought about how to study primate brain evolution research. These are just ideas I have brainstormed. It is very probable that people are doing this out in their respective labs but I’m not in the know of what’s totally current. I hope you are interested in what scope of primate brain evolution research I will be discussion… I’ll be mostly taking in a functional genomic and computational biology approach, but that’s not to say more objective sciences such as psychology can’t fit into this game plan.

To start off, understanding primate brain evolution, specifically the biological mechanisms by how the primate brains have been positively selected for by size involves two complementary aspects of research. One of it is to identify the genes involved in brain growth and development, as well as their expression patterns. This is wet lab work, a whole lot of tissue sampling, mRNA isolation, cDNA synthesis and RT-PCR amplification, gene quantification and qualification and ultimately sequencing. At this level, one would need to sample multiple samples of representative primates (that have their genomes sequenced) and different developmental stages and populations.

Once these key players can be identified, the functions of these genes need to be well understood. Of course making knockout monkeys will be a costly and time consuming endeavor full of ethical issues, so I imagine having knockout neuron cultures can help understand the function of these genes better when they aren’t expressed. That’s a bit hard, neurons are awfully fickle to grown in culture. Maybe reporter constructs? Also, other non-traditional research such as sequence homology to other known proteins can help isolate potential functions based on structure.

Now once these key developmental genes have been classified, their relative importance should be noted… or in other words, one needs to organize which genes are specific to all primates and which are specific to fewer primates. Do these genes correlate with the known lineage of primates? If a unique pattern can be extracted, this will make the second aspect of research much easier and conclusive. This is the computational biology approach, using computers, statistics, and other mathematical models to identify what genes were mutated the most to yield the most growth. What genes remained fairly consistent? Can we estimate ages of coalescence or divergence, are there unique mutations to populations or species of primates… ultimately can we begin to make a phylogenetic tree of these genes and their changes throughout evolutionary time?

As I currently laid it out, these two field complement each other and if anything one is dependent on the other. Currently, I know of computational studies that seem to search high and low to find genes that have been positively selected for in primates by scanning and comparing entire genomes. If a hit is found, the research then shifts backwards to estimate functions based on the sequence homology to other known genes and their functions. While that maybe a useful, quick and easy approach, it’s all sorts of wrong. It is wrong because it is the needle in the haystack method. I advise one first narrow down the list, by doing the functional genomic screens, which is arduous and tedious, but much more quantitative and thorough. That way, one can limit things down to candidate genes specific to a species, developmental stage, etc. The playing field will be much more narrow and the computations will be much more conclusive.

What do you think? Do I have it right, do I have it wrong? Not to be rubbing my ego, but I think I have a thorough plan here — one that would make the most killer dissertation ever. Do you know of any researchers doing it this way? If any one out there, who reads this blog, carries out primate brain evolution research please feel free to comment and discuss. I’m really curious to know if what I have been thinking is even right.

2 thoughts on “Brainstorming the Future of Primate Brain Evolution Research

  1. It’s impossibe to figgure out how the primate evolved. Why, because NOTHING has evolved.

    If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a ‘simple’ living cell. This should be possible, since they certainly have a very great amount of knowledge about what is inside the ‘simple’ cell.

    After all, shouldn’t all the combined Intelligence of all the worlds scientist be able the do what chance encounters with random chemicals, without a set of instructions, accomplished about 4 billion years ago,according to the evolutionists, having no intelligence at all available to help them along in their quest to become a living entity. Surely then the evolutionists scientists today should be able to make us a ‘simple’ cell.

    If it weren’t so pitiful it would be humorous, that intelligent people have swallowed the evolution mythology.

    Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in evolution is that sources they admire, say it is so. It would pay for these people to do a thorough examination of all the evidence CONTRARY to evolution that is readily available: Try answersingenesis.org. The evolutionists should honestly examine the SUPPOSED evidence ‘FOR’ evolution for THEMSELVES.

    Build us a cell, from scratch, with the required raw material, that is with NO cell material, just the ‘raw’ stuff, and the argument is over. But if the scientists are unsuccessful, perhaps they should try Mother Earth’s recipe, you know, the one they claim worked the first time about 4 billion years ago, so they say. All they need to do is to gather all the chemicals that we know are essential for life, pour them into a large clay pot and stir vigorously for a few billion years, and Walla, LIFE!

    Oh, you don’t believe the ‘original’ Mother Earth recipe will work? You are NOT alone, Neither do I, and MILLIONS of others!

  2. James, you already commented nearly the EXACT same thing on another post. I replied to your comment here, giving you the scientific evidence in your ‘proposed’ challenge.

    You are welcome to debate evolution here, but please change around your comments. Give it some more thought than cut and pasting a rehashed and incorrect response. I will not allow you to submit a duplicate comment in the future.

    A total side note, I mentioned Miller as a key scientist in the above comment I linked too, turns out her just died. Check out the LA Times and the National Center for Science Education for more information.

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