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Friday, 2 April 2021

ZEB2 What a waste

Lentil size mini brains grown in a petri dish had shed light on one of life’s great mysteries. Why are our minds greater than those of the great apes? A two-day window just after conception is the key and it involves the activity of a single gene. This one gene ensures that a certain type of stem cell keeps its cylindrical shape for that crucial forty-eight hours, forty-eight hours longer than in our nearest ape cousins. So, what’s in a shape? The answer is neurons. That cylindrical shaped stem cell is what’s called a ‘neural progenitor’ with the ability to split and create identical cells and the longer they multiply the more neurons created. After seven days, that initial neural progenitor loses its unique cylindrical shape along with its ability to multiply. The neural progenitor of the ape and chimp and for all I know the bonobo monkey loses the ability to multiply after just five days. Hence our significantly larger brains. Interesting trivia, but some things just stick in the mind—for which blame the gene ZEB2 that switches the neural progenitor off and on. 

Other than briefly pondering what this could mean for the future—apes subject to human tinkering—my butterfly mind (with all those extra neurons) fluttered to the next flower, a whole field full of trivia that sticks in the mind. 

Do you know, for example that humans possess genes connected to our salivary glands that could in theory be tweaked to produce venom?

That just two sausages a week increases the likelihood of a stroke,

That four glasses of red wine a week reduces cataracts by 25%

That coffee during pregnancy increases the likelihood of small babies. 

Eggs are good for you.

Eggs are bad for you.

Neurons wasted on this. I’m ashamed but find the nonsense hard to resist—especially this final ‘fact:’  A cold shower is almost as good as the gene ZEB2. It boosts memory and guards against Alzheimer’s (if you don’t suffer a heart attack first) stimulates the immune system, stimulates endorphins, serotonin all kind of wonderful happiness inducing things. Well, I’ve tried—or at least am in the process of trying. 

Normally, like most sensible people, I always make sure the shower head is some distance from my body until the water runs hot. Now, however, I boldly extend my arms into the cold. And its hell! Sod serotonin, and who needs a memory boost anyway? Even so, I grit my teeth and persevere. Today I extended a shoulder, tomorrow perhaps the second, and then who knows two shoulders at once. Then again maybe not. The neurons haven’t yet decided. The only thing I am certain about are the four glasses of wine, the possibility of avoiding cataracts merely a bonus.  


Maria Zannini said...

Which begs the question, can we also lengthen that 48 hour window to create neuron-rich humans?

I'd rather they refresh the neurons I'm currently losing--or at least tighten the wires. :)

Mike Keyton said...

Now there's where you have more neurons than me. My first thought was to make chimpanzees smarter. Yours was to make humans smarter. I bow my head.

Having said that, it's likely the privilege would be reserved for the progeny of the rich and elite - until they found their neurons never stopped multiplying and their heads exploded all over the place.