Monday, March 3, 2008

On neurogenetics

Robert Plomin, in 2003, saw that the gene IGF2R (allele 5 .) is correlated with high intelligence - it occurred in 26% of people within 1 standard deviation of average IQ, currently set at 85-115, and in 53% of people with an IQ of 140 or above. IGF2R, insulin growth factor 2 receptor gene, is on chromosome 6 and codes for metabolism of glucose in the brain.

Dysbindin-1, a gene implicated in schizophrenia, has also been linked to impaired cognitive function.

In my emails with Richard Haier, professor emeritus of psychology and a faculty member of the UC Irvine hospital, I have been told that epigenetics is important in finding the neurogenetic bases of intelligence.

So where do we proceed from these two genes? There are as many as 100 other genes implicated in intelligence, and many more which are implicated indirectly in cognitive impairment. It is easier to destroy than to augment an organism, they say.

Possible sources of genetic material may be other genes on chromosome 6, other genes implicated in neurological and psychological illness, and genes on chromosome 2. I make note of chromosome 2 because it is the one chromosome that is completely peculiar to humans; early in our genetic history two chromosomes fused at their telomeres, evidenced by the abundance of telomeric material in the middle of the chromosome and two groups of centromeric material in the chromosome. Interaction between each gene might give rise to peculiar features that only humans possess, and since we share 99% of genetic material with chimpanzees, this fusion might have produced some peculiarities in cognition of people.

There are of course more pieces of evidence that say we are not as cognitively different from other animals as once thought.

There is a comic from XKCD which depicts a stick figure bent over a PC. A voice, presumably the stick figure's partner, asks the stick figure if it is coming to bed. The stick figure says 'No! Someone is wrong on the internet!' Replace 'on the internet' with 'about neuroscience', and you pretty much have part of how I hope to communicate after I earn my PhD .

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