Friday, October 2, 2009

Horizontal gene transfer of intelligence traits between phylogenetically distant species

Darwin, C., Zhu, X., Xi, Z. and Conrado, D.
Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Harvard Morgue for Nerds (HMN), Massachussets, USA

Horizontal gene transfer is well characterized among bacteria, and this mechanism is known to be responsible for genetic diversity and evolution in these organisms. However, no evidence of gene transfer between higher species, including humans, has been reported to date. In consequence, horizontal gene transfer is not considered a major event in the evolution of higher organisms. The evolutionary events that led to development of intelligence in humans are not yet understood at a genetic level. We hypothesize that some sort of horizontal gene transfer must have contributed to the appearance of rational beings in our planet. To test this possibility, we have devised a simple experiment by co-cultivating in the same culture flask amoebas (Acanthamoeba polyphaga) and human neurons freshly obtained post-mortem from the brain of a Bioinformatician (Homo sapiens var. linux) that had died from severe exposure-to-nature stress (kind gift of the busy HMN facilities). A control flask inoculated with amoebas alone was maintained in parallel. After 7 days of co-cultivation, amoebas from both co-culture and control flasks were implanted into the brain of adult mice by standard surgical means. Mice harboring control amoebas suffered severe neurological damage signs, likely due to in situ phagocytosis of local neurons by the implanted amoebas. In contrast, mice implanted with amoebas from the human neuron co-cultivation flask not only did survive, but also showed some traits of intelligence that are not commonly observed in mice: i) they seemed to read with interest the news in the newspapers used to absorb urine at the bottom of their cages, especially Disneyworld adds; ii) when placed in a mace, they signaled their way out with a permanent marker stolen from the animal facility technician and drew on the mace walls some simple calculations related to the distance walked; iii) when placed on a computer keyboard, they were able to perform some basic operations, such as playing Windows games (Mines being a favorite), accessing to Shakira videos in YouTube and formatting the hard disk afterwards, always in that order (p<0.0001); and iv) they knew how to use alternative locomotion devices (see Fig.) although they sometimes crept as if trying to emit pseudopods.

One adverse effect was observed: when shown a picture of an amoeba, these mice would suffer a hormonal shock characterized as unstoppable desire to mate. We conclude that intelligence can be transferred among amoebas and isolated neurons by a TSPMLH (Todo se pega menos la hermosura: named after a Spanish saying “All passes on except beauty”) gene transfer mechanism. Experiments are under way by separating both populations in culture by a porous membrane to check whether direct contact is necessary for TSPMLH gene transfer. We propose that growth of different species in the same culture pot, in early-life natural conditions, may have been of capital importance for the evolution of intelligence from simple to very simple organisms.

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