Monday, November 14, 2011

SfN Monday 2011: Almost Femus

Saturday and Sunday were gargantuan days whose events were not ideal blog fodder (read: 5,000,203 posters).  Today's events, in contrast, are worth reporting.

This morning's poster session began with a very brief reunion with my most admired undergraduate professor, and ended with the development of a potential future collaboration to take place in the lab in which I have not yet even rotated (lolz...).

In the late morning I attended the David Kopf Lecture on Neuroethics, given by Svante Pääbo of the Max Plank Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany (yes, I just Wiki-linked him).  The man's career is packed with astounding work, only a glimpse of which we were given today.  In brief, Dr. Pääbo's talk came down to three parts:
  • Although evolution has seen total replacement of mitochondrial DNA in modern humans such that none of us share mitochondrial DNA with Neadertals, 2.5% of our nuclear genome derives from Neandertal lineage.
  • Analysis of a newly unearthed finger tip fossil reveals a hitherto unknown line of hominin that Pääbo's group called Denisovans, who share Neandertal DNA back to 650,000 years, and with modern humans back to 800,000 years.  From genome comparisons, Pääbo elucidated the geographical interbreeding patterns of these three lines.  Matching between modern humans and  Denisovans was 90K in a French subject, 70K in an African subject, and 86K in a New Guinean subject (*approximations).  Which... if you've ever read [and loved] Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale, Pääbo's work will blow your mind.
  • Finally (and my favorite part, as a basal ganglia fanatic), Pääbo et al have utilized the divergence of Neandertal, Denisovan and modern human to identify genomic regions positively selected in human evolution.  He elaborates on one such candidate, the FoxP2 gene, which is involved in speech and language development.  In a transgenic mouse, the expression of human FoxP2 produces 323 phenotypes.  One of these phenotypes is elongation of dendritic trees in the striatum.  Another is an overall decrease in whole brain dopamine levels, and finally altered vocalization patterns.  I'll reiterate: a human gene positively selected by evolution to help humans develop language is capable of altering the morphology of a mouse brain region involved in spatial learning and attention, and altering the way mice "speak".  (scencegasm)
Elated by Pääbo's lecture, which has nothing to do with what I'm researching currently (or in the forseeable future), I re-entered the massive dungeon hall of posters and ran into my current rotation PI as well as a crew of several of his past students and post docs.  What fantastic people they were, and how enamored they were of Dr. Spinal Cord Repairman, and how encouraging they were that I continue in his lab!  At what a time, too, when I am frustrated by my lack of productivity this term and the general disorganization of the lab atmosphere.  Perhaps these are things which are worth taking with a grain of salt after all.  I was even more encouraged when I happened upon [read: hunted down] a collaborator of Dr. Spinal Cord Repairman's who is mucho femus.  This is a man with whom I have exchanged all of two emails discussing the direction of the project I'm currently working on which happens to be a collaborative one, and who remembered my name.  (flutter)

Tonight: tour of the sites, BANTER.

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