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How Can Development and Plasticity Contribute to Understanding Evolution of the Human Brain?

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Book Series: Frontiers Research Topics ISSN: 16648714 ISBN: 9782889198894 Year: Pages: 130 DOI: 10.3389/978-2-88919-889-4 Language: English
Publisher: Frontiers Media SA
Subject: Science (General) --- Neurology
Added to DOAB on : 2016-01-19 14:05:46
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Abstract

Humans usually attribute themselves the prerogative of being the pinnacle of evolution. They have large brains with many billion neurons and glial cells, trillions of synapses and besides all, a plastic hardware that may change either subtly or strongly in response to the external environment and internal, mental commands. With this hypercomplex apparatus, they are capable of very sophisticated inward computations and outward behaviors that include self-recognition, metacognition, different forms of language expression and reception, prediction of future events, planning and performing long streams of motor acts, subtle emotional feelings, and many other surprising, almost unbelievable properties. The main challenge for research is: how do we explain this gigantic achievement of evolution? Is it a direct consequence of having acquired a brain larger than our primate ancestors, with huge numbers of computational units? Would it be determined by a particular way these units came to relate to each other, building up logic circuits of powerful capacities? What along development has “made the difference” for the construction of such a complex brain machine? How much of this complexity is innate, how much is sculpted by influence of the external world, by social interaction with our human fellows, and by the history of our own mental trajectory along life? Many specific questions can be asked (albeit not necessarily answered so far) to this purpose: (1) which genomic characteristics make us unique among primates? (2) which of developmental events during and beyond embryogenesis define our brain – prolonged neurogenesis? permanent circuit (re)formation? dynamic synaptogenesis? regressive sculpting of the hardware? all of them? (3) is there anything special about plasticity of the human brain that allows us to build the exquisite individual variability characteristic of our brains? Neuroscience is in need of a synthesis. Perhaps associating concepts derived from developmental neurobiology with evolutionary morphology and physiology, together with those that photograph the human brain in action under influence of the external world, would turn on a light at the end of the tunnel, and we would be able to understand what humans do have that is special – if anything – to explain our success in the Earth.

Evolution of Organismal Form: From Regulatory Interactions to Developmental Processes and Biological Patterns

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Book Series: Frontiers Research Topics ISSN: 16648714 ISBN: 9782889450978 Year: Pages: 118 DOI: 10.3389/978-2-88945-097-8 Language: English
Publisher: Frontiers Media SA
Subject: Botany --- Ecology --- Genetics --- Science (General)
Added to DOAB on : 2017-07-06 13:27:36
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Today's biodiversity is the spectacular product of hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Understanding how this diversity of living organisms appeared is one of the most intriguing and challenging question in biology. Because organismal morphology is established during embryonic development, and because morphological traits diversified from ancestral forms during evolution, it can be inferred that changes in the mechanisms controlling embryonic development are instrumental for morphological evolution. This syllogism lies at the very heart of a new discipline called Evo-Devo which is centered in the identification of the cellular and genetic mechanisms that, through modifications in developmental programmes, were at the base of morphological innovations during evolution. After the discovery of the broad conservation of gene content and regulatory networks in the animal kingdom, as well as in plants, Evo-Devo is orienting towards the study of differences through experimental and functional approaches. Given the wide range of species, gene families, and developmental processes considered, a concerted effort is still required to shed light on the genetic, cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in phenotypic evolution. It is a particularly exciting time for this field of evolutionary developmental biology, as the advent of novel imaging, genome editing and sequencing technologies allows the study of almost any organism in ways that were unthinkable only a few years ago. Therefore, the aim of this Frontiers Research Topic is to gather an original collection of experimental approaches, concepts and hypotheses reflecting the current diversity of the Evo-Devo field. We have organized the articles according to the mechanistic depth with which they tackle specific evolutionary issues. Hence, comparisons of expression patterns have been grouped in Chapter 1, changes in regulatory interactions and gene networks are presented in Chapter 2, while Chapter 3 focuses on the evolution of developmental processes and biological patterns.

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