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Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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Study sheds light on evolution of the brain

Princeton and Bell Labs scientists have devised a simple but powerful method for analyzing brain anatomy, providing the first reliable measure of how brains of humans and other mammals are related to one another across evolution.

In a paper in the May 10 issue of Nature, the researchers show how comparing the relative sizes of 11 brain parts reveals a unique brain structure for each species. They calculated the percentage of total brain volume contributed by each part and created the term "cerebrotype" to describe the resulting 11-number characterization, just as the word "genotype" describes the unique DNA sequence for each species.

The analysis shows that mammals fall into a spectrum of cerebrotypes, with humans at one end and insect-eaters, such as hedgehogs, at the other.

"Intuitively, we know there is something about our brains that is extreme," said Sam Wang, an assistant professor of molecular biology and the senior author of the paper. "What we have here is a direct measure of one way in which our brains are extreme."

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Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601

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