Mentor: Micah Daily, Greg Wray, Ph.D
Biology Department, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Humans and Chimpanzees share 98% of their DNA, yet these minor differences cause vast phenotypic changes, such as humans having billions of more neurons in their brain. The specific differences in neural progenitor (NP) gene expression that pioneers these changes remains unknown. We tested for allelic imbalance in various genes expressed in chimpanzee and human neural progenitor cells, such as the CCNG1 gene and Sox1 gene. Human-Chimpanzee hybrid induced pluripotent stem cells were differentiated into neural progenitor cells to test for allele specific expression. Unique primers specific to human or chimpanzee genes were developed and qPCR was conducted to test for differences in allele expression of genes in humans and chimpanzee neural progenitors. Eventually, we would expect to uncover allelic imbalances in genes that regulate the cell cycle in neural progenitors and the transition of NP into neurons, astrocytes, or oligodendrocytes. These imbalances would give insight into some of the genes that drive the neuronal differences between humans and chimpanzees. These genes can be further investigated to uncover the specific mutations in the coding or non-coding regions that are responsible for the allelic imbalances that have evolved between chimpanzees and humans.