Mice, Men, and Fate

Posted on May 17, 2013

Almost fifteen years ago, in a book called “Chance, Development, and Aging,” the gerontologists Caleb Finch and Thomas Kirkwood described a truly elegant study of biology: a batch of roundworms, all genetically identical, raised on identical diets of agar. Despite having identical genetics and near-identical environments, some worms lived far longer than others. The lesson? The classical equation of “life = nature + nurture” had left out chance.

Of course, that was just worms. This week, a team of German researchers, led by Gerd Kempermann, built on a similar logic and announced in Science that they had raised forty inbred mice that were essentially genetically identical in a single complex environment, and used radio-frequency identification (RFID) implants to track every moment of their lives. Nobody could ever ethically run that sort of controlled experiment with humans, but Kempermann’s study provides convincing evidence that—in a fellow mammal with which we share a basic brain organization—neither genetic identity nor a shared environment is enough to guarantee a common fate. Different creatures, even from the same species, can grow up differently, and develop significantly different brains—even if their genomes are identical, and even if their environments are, too.

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Category(s):Adult psychological development, Child Development, Individuation

Source material from The New Yorker


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