Video Alysson Muotri: Neanderthal Brains in a Bottle

Alysson Muotri: Neanderthal Brains in a Bottle

So this is not exactly a Neanderthal brain in a bottle, but it gestures in that direction. Here, we are finding a new way of understanding what makes us human and how we became human.

Alysson Muotri just published a study of Neanderthal brains that seems to be taken straight out of science fiction. His team took a mutation from Neanderthals, and edited into human cells. These cells were grown up into “brain organoids” in a dish.Because of that single mutation, the brain organoids looked differently and worked differently too.

How did they pick the mutation? How did introduce it into the cells? What are organoids any ways? These questions are the starting point.

But greater questions loom. What does this experiment really tell us about how we became human? There may be more questions here than answers.

In the end, we are approaching the grand question again, this time from a very new direction. Come wonder about this question with Dr Moutri, Dr. Lents and myself. What does it mean to be human?

Two black and white panels. The top one shows circular blobs of tissue, the bottom one rougher shapes.

Brain organoids containing an archaic gene variant (bottom) were smaller and more roughly textured than human organoids (top).Credit: C. A. Trujillo et al./Science

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Come with the goal to understand and to be understood. Whatever your personal beliefs, we saved a chair for you. 

S. Joshua Swamidass
Dr. Swamidass is the founder of Peaceful Science. He is an associate professor at Washington University in Saint Louis where he runs a computational biology group using artificial intelligence to explore science at the intersection of biology, chemistry, and medicine.

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