The Roots of Individuality

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Why do different people’s minds work so differently? Human brain cells don’t follow a set DNA script. Instead, they contain a surprising number of mobile elements — or “jumping genes” — that let them reorganize their genetic code.

That’s the message of a paper published today in the advance online edition of Nature. “The brain has 100 billion neurons with 100 trillion connections, but mobile pieces of DNA could give individual neurons a slightly different capacity from each other,” researcher Fred Gage said in a statement. And that diversity could help explain why people — even identical twins, who share all the same genes after all — are still so different: unique individuals with unique personalities. The researchers believe jumping genes may also play a role in some neurological disorders.

Courtesy of Jamie Simon, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Courtesy of Jamie Simon, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

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