Total number of cortical neurons distinguishes the human brain from those of primates

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Total number of cortical neurons distinguishes the human brain from those of primates

For the longest time, researchers have wondered why humans have bigger and more developed brains compared to primates. A new study by researchers at Vanderbilt University has revealed that there is only one feature that distinguishes human and primate brains, which is the number of cortical neurons in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. While primates such as gorillas and orangutans have 9 billion cortical neurons, humans have 16 billion cortical neurons. Suzana Herculano-Houzel, who led the study, believes that the invention of cooking helped in the human brain development. The brain uses 25% of all the energy the body needs; therefore, it needs to be provided with food for it to develop. Primates spend a large part of their day in foraging for food and largely consume raw food. On the other hand, “Cooking allowed us to overcome an energetic barrier that restricts the size of the brains of other primates,” Herculano-Houzel says. To support her theory, she states that while the human and primate brains were of the same size around the time humans developed the first stone tools, our brains started developing as we learned to process our food with the available tools.

Read more in Science Daily.   

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Published on: Aug 12, 2016


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