Scientists edit monkey brains to add intelligence in chilling experiment

In a development that seems almost like science fiction, a team of researchers have spliced human genes into a monkey foetus – resulting in an animal with a far larger and more advanced brain.

Researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Germany, working with a team from Japan’s Central Institute for Experimental Animals. implanted copies of the human ARHGAP11B gene into the foetus of a common marmoset.

The monkey’s neocortex – the part of the brain concerned with language and learning – was significantly enlarged by the procedure, the scientists report.

The findings confirm earlier research suggesting that the ARHGAP11B gene is a key factor in the development of intelligence.

The team’s research, published in the current issue of Science, sheds light on how the common ancestor of apes and humans developed the reasoning abilities that turned us from just another simple hominid to the creature that developed civilisations, cities, and spacecraft.

“We found indeed that the neocortex of the common marmoset brain was enlarged and the brain surface folded,” Michael Heide, the lead author of the study, said in a press release.

“Its cortical plate was also thicker than normal.”

Study coauthor Wieland Huttner stressed that the animal test subjects were not permitted to develop beyond the foetal stage due to ethical concerns.

“In light of potential unforeseeable consequences with regard to postnatal brain function, we considered it a prerequisite—and mandatory from an ethical point of view—to first determine the effects of ARHGAP11B on the development of foetal marmoset neocortex."

In the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, similar research aimed at repairing human brains affected by dementia results in a huge boost of ape intelligence alongside a global pandemic that dramatically reduces the human population.

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