To better understand who we are, where we came from, and what “makes humans human”, Prof. Pääbo and his colleagues are creating “miniature brains” genetically engineered to contain Neanderthal DNA.
“Neanderthals are the closest relatives to everyday humans, so if we should define ourselves as a group or a species it is really them that we should compare ourselves to.” – Prof. Svante Pääbo, Director of the genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
These brain organoids are grown with human stem cells, edited to contain “neanderthalized” versions of several genes. The aim is to identify meaningful differences in human neurobiology.
“We’re seeing if we can find basic differences in how nerve cells function that may be a basis for why humans seem to be cognitively so special.”