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Hard Science

For the First Time, Scientists Identify Genes In The Brain Linked To Human Intelligence

Wired

What creates intelligence? Are the super-smart intelligent because of the way that their brains are wired? Is it because of genes, or is it just because of the way that they were raised?

Now, we have new information to help us answer these complicated questions.

For the first time, scientists have discovered brain networks that, they believe, could be linked to human intelligence. The clusters, named M1 and M3, are composed of hundreds of individual genes. These two clusters are believed to have an influence on humans’ major cognitive functions, including attention, reasoning, processing speed, and memory.

The scientists also believe that M1 and M3 clusters are under the control of a ‘master switch’ that can regulate how these gene networks function. Should this be proven, the researchers behind the discovery believe that we could manipulate genetic human intelligence and give human cognitive capabilities a boost.

“We know that genetics plays a major role in intelligence but until now haven’t known which genes are relevant,” said neurologist Michael Johnson at Imperial College London in the UK. “This research highlights some of the genes involved in human intelligence, and how they interact with each other.”

Listen to CrashCourse discuss the controversy of intelligence, and how it is measured, in the video below.

The discovery was made after scientists examined the brains of patients who underwent neurosurgery for epilepsy and compared thousands of genes expressed in the brain.

“Traits such as intelligence are governed by large groups of genes working together – like a football team made up of players in different positions,” said Johnson. “We used computer analysis to identify the genes in the human brain that work together to influence our cognitive ability to make new memories or sensible decisions when faced with lots of complex information. We found that some of these genes overlap with those that cause severe childhood onset epilepsy or intellectual disability.”

Smart Results

The research, which was published in Nature Neuroscience, is still at the early stages; however, it could potentially have a major impact on how the medical industry could approach the treatment of brain diseases.

Eventually, the study could provide a deeper and better understanding for treatments for neurodevelopmental diseases such as epilepsy or provide a solution for cognitive impairments caused by devastating neurological diseases (maybe bringing an end to Alzheimer’s?).

And it may allow us to even alter brainpower itself (though that capability it more suspect). “Our research suggests that it might be possible to work with these genes to modify intelligence, but that is only a theoretical possibility at the moment – we have just taken a first step along that road,” Johnson ends.

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