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Enard, Wolfgang (2016): The Molecular Basis of Human Brain Evolution. In: Current Biology, Vol. 26, No. 20: R1109-R1117

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Humans are a remarkable species, especially because of the remarkable properties of their brain. Since the split from the chimpanzee lineage, the human brain has increased three-fold in size and has acquired abilities for vocal learning, language and intense cooperation. To better understand the molecular basis of these changes is of great biological and biomedical interest. However, all the about 16 million fixed genetic changes that occurred during human evolution are fully correlated with all molecular, cellular, anatomical and behavioral changes that occurred during this time. Hence, as humans and chimpanzees cannot be crossed or genetically manipulated, no direct evidence for linking particular genetic and molecular changes to human brain evolution can be obtained. Here, I sketch a framework how indirect evidence can be obtained and review findings related to the molecular basis of human cognition, vocal learning and brain size. In particular, I discuss how a comprehensive comparative approach, leveraging cellular systems and genomic technologies, could inform the evolution of our brain in the future.

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