Swiss scientists grew mini Neanderthal brains in petri dishes

Researchers at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology in Basel, Switzerland have attempted to isolate the Neanderthal DNA from certain human stem cells. A leader on the project, Grayson Camp, had already performed a similar experiment using chimpanzee stem cells, to get a better understanding of the differences between chimp and human brains.

Their research, titled "Human Stem Cell Resources Are an Inroad to Neandertal DNA Functions," was published on June 18, 2020, and began with analyzing genome data to identify the stem cells most likely to still carry Neanderthal DNA (which, as I've just now learned, mostly persists among Northern Europeans). From there, according to CNN:

The team then grew brain organoids — 3D blobs of brain tissue just a few millimeters wide and only just visible to the naked eye — from these cells by nurturing them in a petri dish with a growth factor.

Organoids, which can mimic in a rudimentary way many human organs, can be used to test the specific effects of drugs safely outside the body, something that has revolutionized and personalized areas such as cancer treatment.

"Researchers have of course generated and analyzed organoids from human cells before, just no one had ever bothered to look at what the Neanderthal DNA might be doing," Camp said.

Camp made certain to clarify that these were not fully functional Neanderthal brains — they were still, technically, human cells, just ones that contained Neanderthal DNA. Which is definitely different from Jurassic Park, he insists, although I'm pretty sure that pseudoscience also relied on isolating the leftover DNA that remained in the modern descendents of certain extinct lifeforms.

Regardless of whether these "organoids" are technically Neanderthal or homosapien, they are apparently capable of sprouting hair.

This first round of Neanderthal mini-brain growth is meant to serve as a proof-of-concept for future scientists to continue to study the relationship between humans and Neanderthals, and better understand our evolutionary connections, as well as what led to the Neanderthal's demise. There is no information currently available about a horrible dystopian park full of captive cloned Neanderthals.

Scientists have grown mini brains containing Neanderthal DNA [Katie Hunt / CNN]

Human Stem Cell Resources Are an Inroad to Neandertal DNA Functions [Michael Dannemann, Zhisong He, Christian Heide, Benjamin Vernot, Leila Sidow, Sabina Kanton, Anne Weigert, Barbara Treutlein, Svante Pääbo, Janet Kelso, J. Gray Camp]

In Switzerland neuroscientists raised a copy of the brain with the DNA of Neanderthals [Natasha Kumar / The Times Hub]

Image: Clemens Vasters / Flickr (CC 2.0)