A scenario like Planet of the Apes might not be as unrealistic as we think, but fortunately—or at least for right now—it seems like our future overlords will be far less threatening than Caesar and co.. That's because scientists have discovered that injecting mice with human brain cells can actually make them smarter. All hail our hyper-intelligent, beady-eyed kings.
The research team led by Steven Goldman and neurobiologist Maiken Nedergaard wanted to the test the importance of supporting, non-neural brain cells called "glia" in information processing. So they injected human progenitor glial cells into newborn mice, naturally. These progenitor cells are able to form all sorts of glial cells, but for this case, the most important glial cell made by progenitors were cells called "astrocytes." All animals have them, but the astrocytes in human brains are vastly more complex than in other animals. And it's these astrocytes that put the human brain in a completely different league than that of, oh—a mouse, for instance.
Six months after the initial injection, the human glial cells had almost entirely replaced those of the mice. Our astrocytes had taken over—and it showed. The mice with the boost of brain power performed at a significantly higher level in mazes and other tasks than the control mice.
So while the results are an incredible testament to the complex inner-workings of the brain (which we're truly just beginning to understand), it's probably best to proceed with caution. Or at least, be very, very kind to our little rodent friends. Because one day, they may be able to return the favor—or lack thereof. [PopSci]
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