Chimpanzees, famous for their abilities to learn sign language and use tools, have long been a source of fascination for humans. While chimps are one of the smartest animals on the planet and show remarkable capacity for learning new skills, their cognitive achievements are relatively small when compared with the human brain. New research has discovered what it is about the human brain that has allowed it to evolve so far beyond its primate origins.
The study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed the data from 218 human and 206 chimpanzee MRI brain scans. They found that the human brain exhibits much more plasticity–that is, the ability to quickly adapt to changes in its environment–than the brains of its closest relative. And, although the brains of both species are influenced by genetics, the researchers found that brain organization was more highly inherited in the chimps.
“We found that the anatomy of the chimpanzee brain is more strongly controlled by genes than that of human brains, suggesting the human brain is extensively shaped by its environment no matter its genetics,” said Aida Gomez-Robles, lead author of the study.
Researchers will continue studying the results of this new work in the hopes of uncovering some of the causes of degenerative diseases in humans.