Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

Now in our 12th year of bringing you beautiful imagery from biomedical science every day

Big Brained

Using organoids to study the role of human-specific gene ARHGAP11B in evolution of the human brain

03 January 2023

Big Brained

Humans have the largest brain relative to their size of any creature, and the most complex with 100 billion neurons, each capable of having up to 15,000 connections. How our brains evolved that complexity wasn’t clear, but scientists have now identified a gene that might explain why. The gene called ARHGAP11B, is unique to humans and is crucial for the development of the neocortex – the brain region involved in higher-order functions like cognition and sensory perception. Studying how the neocortex evolved is challenging, but the development of organoid technology has opened doors. Researchers created ‘artificial brains’ from both human and chimpanzee stem cells. By adding ARHGAP11B to the chimpanzee brain organoids (areas highlighted in green), they found an increase in brain stem cells that drive growth and neurons involved with heightened mental capabilities. This suggests that ARHGAP11B played a crucial role in the evolution of the brain from our ancestors to modern humans.

Written by Sophie Arthur

Search The Archive

Submit An Image

What is BPoD?

BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

Read More

BPoD is also available in Catalan at with translations by the University of Valencia.