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The principles that govern the evolution of brain structure are not well understood. Brain to body size[clarification needed] does not scale isometrically (in a linear fashion) but rather allometrically.[1] Small bodied mammals have relatively large brains compared to their bodies whereas large mammals (such as whales) have smaller brain to body ratios. If brain weight is plotted against body weight for primates, the regression line of the sample points can indicate the brain power of a primate species. Lemurs for example fall below this line which means that for a primate of equivalent size, we would expect a larger brain size. Humans lie well above the line indicating that humans are more encephalized than lemurs. In fact, humans are more encephalized than all other primates.[2] The human brain uses 2.5 petabytes, or 2.5 million gigabytes, of storage.[3]


Early history of brain developmentEdit

Scientists can infer that the first brain structure appeared at least 521 million years ago, with fossil brain tissue present in sites of exceptional preservation.[4]

A trend in brain evolution according to a study done with mice, chickens, monkeys and apes concluded that more evolved species tend to preserve the structures responsible for basic behaviors. A long term human study comparing the human brain to the primitive brain found that the modern human brain contains the primitive hindbrain region – what most neuroscientists call the protoreptilian brain. The purpose of this part of the brain is to sustain fundamental homeostatic functions. The pons and medulla are major structures found there. A new region of the brain developed in mammals about 250 million years after the appearance of the hindbrain. This region is known as the paleomammalian brain, the major parts of which are the hippocampi and amygdalas, often referred to as the limbic system. The limbic system deals with more complex functions including emotional, sexual and fighting behaviors. Of course, animals that are not vertebrates also have brains, and their brains have undergone separate evolutionary histories.[5]

The brainstem and limbic system are largely based on nuclei, which are essentially balled-up clusters of tightly-packed neurons and the axon fibers that connect them to each other, as well as to neurons in other locations. The other two major brain areas (the cerebrum and cerebellum) are based on a cortical architecture. At the outer periphery of the cortex, the neurons are arranged into layers (the number of which vary according to species and function) a few millimeters thick. There are axons that travel between the layers, but the majority of axon mass is below the neurons themselves. Since cortical neurons and most of their axon fiber tracts don't have to compete for space, cortical structures can scale more easily than nuclear ones. A key feature of cortex is that because it scales with surface area, "more" of it can be fit inside a skull by introducing convolutions, in much the same way that a dinner napkin can be stuffed into a glass by wadding it up. The degree of convolution is generally greater in more evolved species, which benefit from the increased surface area.

The cerebellum, or "little brain," is behind the brainstem and below the occipital lobe of the cerebrum in humans. Its purposes include the coordination of fine sensorimotor tasks, and it may be involved in some cognitive functions, such as language. Human cerebellar cortex is finely convoluted, much more so than cerebral cortex. Its interior axon fiber tracts are called the arbor vitae, or Tree of Life.

The area of the brain with the greatest amount of recent evolutionary change is called the cerebrum, or neocortex. In reptiles and fish, this area is called the pallium, and is smaller and simpler relative to body mass than what is found in mammals. According to research, the cerebrum first developed about 200 million years ago. It's responsible for higher cognitive functions - for example, language, thinking, and related forms of information processing.[6] It's also responsible for processing sensory input (together with the thalamus, a part of the limbic system that acts as an information router). Most of its function is subconscious, that is, not available for inspection or intervention by the conscious mind. Neocortex is an elaboration, or outgrowth, of structures in the limbic system, with which it is tightly integrated.

Randomizing access and scaling brains upEdit

Some animal groups have gone through major brain enlargement through evolution (e.g. vertebrates and cephalopods both contain many lineages in which brains have grown through evolution) but most animal groups are composed only of species with extremely small brains. Some scientists argue that this difference is due to vertebrate and cephalopod neurons having evolved ways of communicating that overcome the scalability problem of neural networks while most animal groups have not. They argue that the reason why traditional neural networks fail to improve their function when they scale up is because filtering based on previously known probabilities cause self-fulfilling prophecy-like biases that create false statistical evidence giving a completely false worldview and that randomized access can overcome this problem and allow brains to be scaled up to more discriminating conditioned reflexes at larger brains that lead to new worldview forming abilities at certain thresholds. This is explained by randomization allowing the entire brain to eventually get access to all information over the course of many shifts even though instant privileged access is physically impossible. They cite that vertebrate neurons transmit virus-like capsules containing RNA that are sometimes read in the neuron to which it is transmitted and sometimes passed further on unread which creates randomized access, and that cephalopod neurons make different proteins from the same gene which suggests another mechanism for randomization of concentrated information in neurons, both making it evolutionarily worth scaling up brains.[7][8][9]

Brain re-arrangementEdit

With the use of in vivo Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and tissue sampling, different cortical samples from members of each hominoid species were analyzed. In each species, specific areas were either relatively enlarged or shrunken, which can detail neural organizations. Different sizes in the corticol areas can show specific adaptations, functional specializations and evolutionary events that were changes in how the hominoid brain is organized. In early prediction it was thought that the frontal lobe, a large part of the brain that is generally devoted to behavior and social interaction, predicted the differences in behavior between hominoid and humans. Discrediting this theory was evidence supporting that damage to the frontal lobe in both humans and hominoids show atypical social and emotional behavior; thus, this similarity means that the frontal lobe was not very likely to be selected for reorganization. Instead, it is now believed that evolution occurred in other parts of the brain that are strictly associated with certain behaviors. The reorganization that took place is thought to have been more organizational than volumetric; whereas the brain volumes were relatively the same but specific landmark position of surface anatomical features, for example, the lunate sulcus suggest that the brains had been through a neurological reorganization.[10] There is also evidence that the early hominin lineage also underwent a quiescent period, which supports the idea of neural reorganization.

Dental fossil records for early humans and hominins show that immature hominins, including australopithecines and members of Homo, have a quiescent period (Bown et al. 1987). A quiescent period is a period in which there are no dental eruptions of adult teeth; at this time the child becomes more accustomed to social structure, and development of culture. During this time the child is given an extra advantage over other hominoids, devoting several years into developing speech and learning to cooperate within a community.[11] This period is also discussed in relation to encephalization. It was discovered that chimpanzees do not have this neutral dental period and suggest that a quiescent period occurred in very early hominin evolution. Using the models for neurological reorganization it can be suggested the cause for this period, dubbed middle childhood, is most likely for enhanced foraging abilities in varying seasonal environments. To understand the development of human dentition, taking a look at behavior and biology.[12]

Genetic factors contributing to modern evolutionEdit

Bruce Lahn, the senior author at the Howard Hughes Medical Center at the University of Chicago and colleagues have suggested that there are specific genes that control the size of the human brain. These genes continue to play a role in brain evolution, implying that the brain is continuing to evolve. The study began with the researchers assessing 214 genes that are involved in brain development. These genes were obtained from humans, macaques, rats and mice. Lahn and the other researchers noted points in the DNA sequences that caused protein alterations. These DNA changes were then scaled to the evolutionary time that it took for those changes to occur. The data showed the genes in the human brain evolved much faster than those of the other species. Once this genomic evidence was acquired, Lahn and his team decided to find the specific gene or genes that allowed for or even controlled this rapid evolution. Two genes were found to control the size of the human brain as it develops. These genes are Microcephalin and Abnormal Spindle-like Microcephaly (ASPM). The researchers at the University of Chicago were able to determine that under the pressures of selection, both of these genes showed significant DNA sequence changes. Lahn's earlier studies displayed that Microcephalin experienced rapid evolution along the primate lineage which eventually led to the emergence of Homo sapiens. After the emergence of humans, Microcephalin seems to have shown a slower evolution rate. On the contrary, ASPM showed its most rapid evolution in the later years of human evolution once the divergence between chimpanzees and humans had already occurred.[13]

Each of the gene sequences went through specific changes that led to the evolution of humans from ancestral relatives. In order to determine these alterations, Lahn and his colleagues used DNA sequences from multiple primates then compared and contrasted the sequences with those of humans. Following this step, the researchers statistically analyzed the key differences between the primate and human DNA to come to the conclusion, that the differences were due to natural selection. The changes in DNA sequences of these genes accumulated to bring about a competitive advantage and higher fitness that humans possess in relation to other primates. This comparative advantage is coupled with a larger brain size which ultimately allows the human mind to have a higher cognitive awareness.[14]

Human brain size in the fossil recordEdit

The evolutionary history of the human brain shows primarily a gradually bigger brain relative to body size during the evolutionary path from early primates to hominids and finally to Homo sapiens. Human brain size has been trending upwards since 2 million years ago, with a 3 factor increase. Early australopithecine brains were a little larger than chimpanzee brains. The increase has been seen as larger human brain volume as we progressed along the human timeline of evolution (see Homininae), starting from about 600 cm3 in Homo habilis up to 1600 cm3 in Homo neanderthalensis (male averages). The increase in brain size topped with Neanderthals; Brain size of Homo sapiens varies significantly between population (races), with male averages ranging between about 1,200 to 1,450 cm3.[15]

Further readingEdit

  • Falk, Dean (2011). The Fossil Chronicles: How Two Controversial Discoveries Changed Our View of Human Evolution. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26670-4.
  • Raichlen, D.A., and J.D. Polk. 2012. "Linking brains and brawn: exercise and the evolution of human neurobiology." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 280. doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.2250
  • Striedter, G. F. (2005). Principles of Brain Evolution. Sinauer Associates.
  • Eccles, John C (1989) Evolution of the Brain. Routledge.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Allometry: The Study of Biological Scaling | Learn Science at Scitable". Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  2. ^ BODDY, A. M.; McGOWEN, M. R.; SHERWOOD, C. C.; GROSSMAN, L. I.; GOODMAN, M.; WILDMAN, D. E. (2012-03-21). "Comparative analysis of encephalization in mammals reveals relaxed constraints on anthropoid primate and cetacean brain scaling". Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 25 (5): 981–994. doi:10.1111/j.1420-9101.2012.02491.x. ISSN 1010-061X. PMID 22435703.
  3. ^ Reber, Paul (May 1, 2010). "What is the Memory Capacity of the Human Brain?". Scientific American Mind. 21 (2): 70. doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind0510-70.
  4. ^ e.g. Park, Tae-Yoon S; Kihm, Ji-Hoon; Woo, Jusun; Park, Changkun; Lee, Won Young; Smith, M. Paul; Harper, David A. T; Young, Fletcher; Nielsen, Arne T; Vinther, Jakob (2018). "Brain and eyes of Kerygmachela reveal protocerebral ancestry of the panarthropod head". Nature Communications. 9 (1): 1019. Bibcode:2018NatCo...9.1019P. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-03464-w. PMC 5844904. PMID 29523785.
  5. ^ e.g. Park, Tae-Yoon S.; Kihm, Ji-Hoon; Woo, Jusun; Park, Changkun; Lee, Won Young; Smith, M. Paul; Harper, David A. T.; Young, Fletcher; Nielsen, Arne T.; Vinther, Jakob (2018). "Brain and eyes of Kerygmachela reveal protocerebral ancestry of the panarthropod head". Nature Communications. 9 (1): 1019. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-03464-w. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 5844904. PMID 29523785.
  6. ^ Griffin, D. R. (1985). "Animal consciousness". Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 9 (4): 615–622. doi:10.1016/0149-7634(85)90008-9.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Chen, Wei; Qin, Chuan (2015). "General hallmarks of microRNAs in brain evolution and development". RNA Biology. 12 (7): 701–708. doi:10.1080/15476286.2015.1048954. PMC 4615839. PMID 26000728.
  9. ^ Ferrante, Daniel D; Wei, Yi; Koulakov, Alexei A (2016). "Mathematical Model of Evolution of Brain Parcellation". Frontiers in Neural Circuits. 10: 43. doi:10.3389/fncir.2016.00043. PMC 4909755. PMID 27378859.
  10. ^ Kimbell, W. H., & Martin, L. (1993). Species, species concepts, and primate evolution. New York, Plenum Press.
  11. ^ Kappeler, P. M., & Schaik, C. (2006). Cooperation in primates and humans: Mechanisms and evolution. Berlin: Springer.
  12. ^ Scott, G. R., & Irish, J. D. (eds.) (2013). Anthropological perspectives on tooth morphology: Genetics, evolution, variation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  13. ^ Dorus, S.; Vallender, E.J.; Evans, P.D.; Anderson, J.R.; Gilbert, S.L.; Mahowald, M.; Wyckoff, G.J.; Malcolm, C.M.; Lahn, B.T. (2004). "Accelerated evolution of nervous system gene in the origin of Homo sapiens". Cell. 119 (7): 1027–40. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2004.11.040. PMID 15620360.
  14. ^ Evans, P.D.; Gilbert, S.L; Mekel-Bobroz, N.; Vallender, E.J.; Anderson, J.R.; Vaez-Azizi, L.M.; Tishkoff, S.A.; Hudson, R.R.; Lahn, B.T. (2005). "Microcephalin, a Gene Regulating Brain Size, Continues to Evolve Adaptively in Humans". Science. 309 (5741): 1717–20. Bibcode:2005Sci...309.1717E. doi:10.1126/science.1113722. PMID 16151009.
  15. ^ Kenneth L. Beals, Courtland L. Smith, and Stephen M. Dodd, "Brain Size, Cranial Morphology, Climate, and Time Machines" CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY V01. 25, NO 01984 (3 June 1984), fig. p. 304. "We offer an alternative hypothesis that suggests that hominid expansion into regions of cold climate produced change in head shape. Such change in shape contributed to the increased cranial volume. Bioclimatic effects directly upon body size (and indirectly upon brain size) in combination with cranial globularity appear to be a fairly powerful explanation of ethnic group differences." "Morphological Adaptation to Climate in Modern Homo sapiens Crania: The Importance of Basicranial Breadth".. "If Modern Humans Are So Smart, Why Are Our Brains Shrinking?". 2011-01-20. Retrieved 2014-03-05.