Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Enhanced intelligence: it works in mice


I just know that you read that word with a deep exclamation and a Thomas Dolby voice.

Sometimes scientific research can be amazing but its practical application can seem murky at best.  That may be the case with the following experiment but bear in mind, much eventually comes from original research.

Mice have been genetically modified to carry the human gene, Foxp2.  This is the gene thought to be responsible for the human abilities of speech and learning.  So the mice could talk and read T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland?

Of course not.  Don't be ridiculous.

They were, however, able to navigate a maze and nab a reward much faster than those in the unmodified control group.  As the Discover article reports:

"When placed in a maze where mice could use both landmarks and floor texture, mice with the human gene performed far better than normal mice. They learned the route in 7 days rather than the 11 days it took normal mice. However, when mice could only use one cue — landmarks or texture — there was no significant performance difference."

Great, you might say.  So what are we to take from all of this?

For one thing, this experiment grants further evidence of the importance of Foxp2 in the development of the human mind.  It is what allows a learned skill to become an unconscious behavior.  How much do you think about reading?  If you're reading and comprehending this post now, you likely don't give the actual act of reading much thought.  That's what we're talking about.

Knowing this may open up new doors in gene therapy.  If someone has a cognitive disorder, alterations that involve Foxp2 may be the ticket.  I'm sure you've already guessed that I'm thinking of the other applications.  As technology advances, could the same techniques be employed to enhance an already healthy and functional human brain beyond its inherent capabilities?  It only seems far-fetched right now.

The other notion is that now that this procedure is known, an unscrupulous individual may conduct the same experiments on other animals.  Like say, chimpanzees?  I will try to ablacate from a Planet of the Apes scenario, regardless of how much it excites me.

That's it.  I'm building my army of super-intelligent apes and mice.  That way I have stealth and strength.


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