One Small Step for DNA, One Giant Leap for Man’s Brain

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Have scientists discovered the typo that tipped the human brain into the big time?

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At-a-Glance

  • A human-specific gene called ARHGAP11B may be the trigger that enables a human to develop a larger brain than an ape.
  • The gene ARHGAP11B causes the human embryo’s developing brain cells to proliferate, producing the raw material for a large, complex brain.
  • An important nucleotide sequence in the gene ARHGAP11B differs from that in a similar chimpanzee gene by a single nucleotide.
  • The gene ARHGAP11B, when “spelled wrong”—like a chimpanzee’s—does not cause embryonic brain cells to proliferate.
  • Evolutionists claim this genetic “spelling difference” resulted from a mutation in an ancient ape-like ancestor and is responsible for the large human brain.

The human brain is triple the size of a chimpanzee’s. If we share a common ancestor, as evolutionists confidently maintain, then how did our brains leap so far ahead in size and capability? Evolutionary scientists believe they have finally found, in our DNA, the springboard for that massive evolutionary step.

The Gene for Big Brains

Scientists, led by Max Planck Institute’s Wieland Huttner, have identified a gene that triggers a human embryo to grow the vast supply of brain cells that largely forms the foundation for our braininess.1 The same gene is found in modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. Called ARHGAP11B, Huttner says this is “the first human-specific gene where we could show that it contributes to the pool of basal brain stem cells and can trigger a folding of the neocortex. In that way, we managed to take the next step in tracing evolution.”2

Searching for the link between this human gene and the genes of our supposed ape cousins, Marta Florio and colleagues on a team led by Huttner report in Science Advances that the nucleotide sequence in human-specific ARHGAP11B differs from a similar gene in apes by just one nucleotide.3 A nucleotide is the equivalent of a letter in the genetic language. That difference in spelling might well be the genetic basis for one of the greatest physical differences between apes and humans.

Florio’s team genetically engineered a form of ARHGAP11B with a spelling error. They believe this misspelled human gene is the ancestral form of ARHGAP11B because it is spelled like a similar gene in the chimpanzee, which they firmly believe to be the human’s cousin. When tested on mouse embryos,4 this “ancestral” gene was unable to trigger proliferation of basal progenitor cells. (Basal progenitor cells are the cells that differentiate into neurons as embryonic development continues.) This simple spelling error nips any big-brained potential in the bud. Therefore, Florio’s team concludes that the ability of the human ARHGAP11B gene to stimulate stem cell production in a human embryo’s brain evolved “from a change that is tiny on a genomic scale but substantial in its functional and evolutionary consequences.”5

The Big-Brained Blueprint

While scientists have recently found that even adult human brains can undergo changes in the amount of neural tissue present in response to physical training6 or even pregnancy,7 such changes are miniscule in comparison to the vast differences between chimp and human brains. A human brain must develop as a human brain from the earliest days of embryonic development, and the DNA blueprint for the human brain contains the instructions for this process. A human being begins life as a single cell that must rapidly divide and differentiate into many types of cells. Stem cells are simply cells that have the potential to differentiate into different cell types, following the genetic instructions contained in their DNA.

A human brain must develop as a human brain from the earliest days of embryonic development.

So do we grow bigger brains and think greater thoughts than apes because of a genetic typographical error millions of years ago? Did a random genetic mistake in an ancient ape-like creature produce an individual with greater than the normal number of brain cells? Did that happy boo-boo get passed on through the human lineage to us because more brain is better? Ultimately, are we who we are because of a biological accident?

Evolutionist Huttner would answer yes. He says,

A point mutation in a human-specific gene gave it a function that allows expansion of the relevant stem cells that make a brain big. . . . This one, as it is fixed in the human genome—so all living humans have the gene—apparently gave a tremendous selection advantage, and that’s why we believe it spread in the human population.8

Designed Different in the Details That Count

Huttner’s team has learned something about the biological basis for the differences between the human and the chimpanzee brain. But have they discovered how those differences came to be? Not at all. What they have discovered is an important aspect of the genetic design by which God our Creator used a common design to produce such vastly different creations as apes and humans. According to God’s own eyewitness account of our origins, provided in the Bible’s book of Genesis, God created both land animals (like apes) and humans (namely, Adam and Eve) on the same day, Day Six of Creation Week. There is simply no room for molecules-to-man or animal-to-human evolution in God’s account of our origins.

The study’s authors lack the historical perspective available to the Bible’s Author, the Creator God. They base their contention that the single difference in the nucleotide sequence in ARHGAP11B and its chimpanzee version resulted from a mutation in an ancient common ancestor. However, differences are just differences; nothing about this difference indicates it resulted from a mutation. The authors believe the difference represents a mutation because they believe—contrary to any support from observable biology—that humans are the end product of millions of years of evolution after an ancestral divergence from the lineage shared with chimps. They search for the key that unlocked this rather amazing future for the human lineage only because of their belief in our imaginary evolutionary past.

Yet observational science has shown no mechanism by which one kind of animal can acquire the genetic information to evolve into a new, more complex kind of creature. More specifically, observational science has shown no way that humans could evolve from an ape-like creature. And even if the differences were attributable to mutations, mutations cannot create the sort of new genetic information needed for evolution into new, more complex creatures. Mutations are not the engine of evolution.

Despite the wishful storytelling by evolutionists, nothing in science indicates how the human genome could evolve its critical differences from a chimp’s through natural processes.

So what are we to make of this discovery about ARHGAP11B? Are we humans much more like apes than we care to admit? Again, no, not at all! An early embryo’s stem cells proliferate at an exceptional rate, providing the raw material for the enormous number of neurons that distinguish a human brain from a chimp’s. The genetic instructions residing in the human genome—specifically in ARHGAP11B—makes this critical step in human embryonic development possible. But that step only triggers the formation of raw material. It does not tell the resulting storehouse of cells how to differentiate and organize into a human baby’s brain. The incredibly complex set of instructions to do this is also housed in the human genome. Despite the wishful storytelling by evolutionists, nothing in science indicates how the human genome could evolve its critical differences from a chimp’s through natural processes. The hundreds of millions of genetic differences between apes and us represent a chasm evolution cannot cross.

Huttner’s team has discovered nothing to support the false claim that humans evolved from ape-like ancestors. They may well, however, have discovered one of God’s great designs—a genetic adjustment by which our Creator used a common design to do far greater things in the human brain than He did moments before in the ape brain on Day Six of Creation Week. From the earliest moment of his or her life, every human being is indeed fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God by our Creator’s design.

While we humans often fail to use all the intelligence God gave us, we possess brains with abilities that far surpass those of any animal, and we have those because God created them that way. He also endowed us with a spiritual nature without any parallel among animals and the promise of an existence that will not end with our death. And He provided, through Jesus Christ, the mercy and grace by which we can, despite our sinful nature, inherit an eternal destiny in fellowship with Him.

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Footnotes

  1. This preliminary discovery was reported in 2015. See “A Gene for Brain Size Only Found in Humans,” Medical Xpress, February 27, 2015, http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-02-gene-brain-size-humans.html.
  2. Ibid.
  3. The human form of the gene produces messenger RNA containing an extra copy of a 55-nucleotide sequence, when compared to a chimpanzee’s. Many scientists have attributed the bigger brain of humans to this apparent duplication. Florio’s team has determined that it is a single nucleotide difference in the human-specific ARHGAP11B compared to the corresponding DNA sequence in a chimpanzee’s gene that creates this brain-building distinction in mRNA. See Marta Florio, Takashi Namba, Svante Pääbo, Michael Hiller, and Wieland B. Huttner, “A Single Splice Site Mutation in Human-Specific ARHGAP11B Causes Basal Progenitor Amplification,” Science Advances 2, no. 12 (2016): E1601941, doi:10.1126/sciadv.1601941.
  4. The experiments were conducted on mouse embryos. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. The field of neural plasticity is burgeoning with new discoveries, suggesting both gray matter and white matter in the brain can be affected by complex muscle training. See for example Martin Gryga et al., “Bidriectional Gray Matter Changes After Complex Motor Skill Learning,” Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 8 (2012): doi:10.3389/fnsys.2012.00037; and Bimal Lakhani et al., “Motor Skill Acquisition Promotes Human Brain Myelin Plasticity,” Neural Plasticity 2016 (2016): doi:10.1155/2016/7526135.
  7. Meredith Wadman, “Pregnancy Resculpts Women’s Brains for at Least 2 Years,” Science, December 19, 2016, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/12/pregnancy-can-resculpt-women-s-brains-2-years.
  8. Helen Briggs, “DNA Clue to How Humans Evolved Big Brains,” BBC, December 7, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-38226810.

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