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More detailed brain scans reveal that the brain is more complicated than we thought! And cloned sheep might be healthier than we thought!

Hosted by: Hank Green
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Sources:
http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/cloning/whatiscloning/
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature18933.html
http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/07/updated-human-brain-map-reveals-nearly-100-new-regions
http://www.nature.com/news/human-brain-mapped-in-unprecedented-detail-1.20285#/b1
http://press.nature.com/?post_type=press_release&p=53177
http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/ncomms12359

Images:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dolly_face_closeup.jpg
(Intro)

The human brain just got a whole new map, and it turns out that it has 97 new regions we never even knew existed. The Human Connectome Project is a massive effort to understand literally everything there is to know about the human brain. And last week, scientists working on the project announced that they'd finished a new map.

Neuroscientists used to divide the human cerebral cortex into 83 different regions. The new study, published in the journal Nature, brings the total up to 180. Of course we don't know everything about the human brain yet, but we do now know a lot more about how it's divided up into different parts, and what those parts specialize in.

The cerebral cortex is the gray, wrinkly outer layer of your brain that handles a lot of higher thought, like language. Different regions have different jobs they're best at. One area might specialize in vision, another in speech. They also have slightly different structures and compositions. Studying those different regions helps scientists learn more about how the brain works and how it's affected by disease. Plus, brain surgeons like to know where they're sticking their scalpels.

To create the new map, researchers looked at scans of 210 healthy adult brains. Then, they used a computer program to divide each brain into different regions based on differences in things like structure, connection to other areas of the brain, and function. They even looked at a totally different set of 210 people, just to make sure the results were consistent. The team was able to find all out all this new detail because this study is very different from previous brain-mapping projects. Earlier studies generally used sliced up bits of brains from cadavers. But this time, the brain scans were taken while the subjects were still alive so their brains were actually working. This gave researchers much more information about what the different parts were actually doing.

A lot of the newly-found regions came from seeing the regions we already knew about in better detail. The team would look at an area that used to be considered a single region, but their better scans showed that it could be split into several pieces. We don't fully understand what all these different areas of the brain do yet. But at least we know that they exist, so now scientists can learn more about them. And there are lots of researchers studying the human brain.

But it's not too often that you hear about new experiments being done with cloning. You might already know about Dolly, the sheep that was the first mammal ever cloned using an adult cell. She died in 2003, at the age of six, which is kind of early for a sheep. And she'd developed severe arthritis. So, some scientists worried that cloning would produce unhealthy, short-lived copies. If Dolly was a typical example, it was possible that clones would die early of age-related diseases, like osteoarthritis.

But a study published this week by researchers from Nottingham University in England shows that cloned sheep can actually live to a ripe old age without any health problems. Or, like, only the usual amount of aging problems. See, Dolly wasn't the only clone. There were other sheep cloned from the same line of cells, collectively referred to as "Dollies" maybe because "clone club" was taken. And there are also other clones of sheep other than Dolly's original.

The sheep were cloned using a method called somatic cell nuclear transfer. Researchers take the nucleus, which contains the cell's DNA, out of both an adult cell and an egg cell. Then, the adult cell's nucleus gets stuck into the egg cell essentially replacing the egg cell's nucleus.

Normally, that adult DNA would have no chance of developing into a whole organism, because it has a more specific job to do: to be skin or liver or whatever. But it does contain all of the instructions for every cell in the organism. And in its new home in the egg cell, it busts out all those instructions. The cell starts dividing and eventually forms an entire organism.

The team studied a group of sheep that were cloned this way, including Dollies and other clones of other breeds. These Dollies were cloned much later than their famous sister, who would've turned 20 this year. All of the sheep were between seven and nine years old a decent age for sheep, which have a typical average lifespan of 10-12 years. The researchers looked for signs of diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoarthritis. There was no sign of the first two. They did find some mild-to-moderate arthritis, but you'd expect a touch of that in an aging sheep just like you would in an aging human. But it was nothing like Dolly's debilitating joint problems.

So if a clone is healthy enough to be born, it can also be healthy enough to live a normal life. We probably won't see human clones being born any time soon. But improving the technique used to make these sheep clones could lead to better stem cell therapies for humans. So it helps to know that cloned sheep can turn out okay.

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