Earlier this month, a study published in Cell suggests CHD8, a gene that regulates the structure of DNA, as the closest thing so far to an “autism gene.”
Researchers first linked mutations in CHD8 to autism in 2012, finding the transfigured gene in 15 people diagnosed with ASD but none of their unaffected family members. Among those in the autism group, the study found that more than twice as many have de novo, or spontaneous, mutations in CHD8 as have de novo mutations in any other gene.
Those found with mutations in CHD8 all have the same cluster of characteristics from constipation and sleep disorders to a prominent forehead, large wide-set eyes and a pointed chin. Previous studies have found that children with autism have an abnormally large number of neurons in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that is important for abstract thinking, planning and social behaviors.
This would contribute to the unique facial features of the CHD8 subjects, and it’s this phenotype I find most interesting.
Take a look at the photo of the six people below. These are a few of the subjects from the study that found 15 individuals to have CHD8 disruptive mutations.
Now take a look at the photo at the top of this article. No, those are not two additional subjects from the study. Instead, this photo depicts what humans might look like 20,000 years from now. Visual artist Nickolay Lamm worked with computational geneticist Alan Kwan, Ph.D., to envision mankind in the next 100,000 years. Their project suggests future humans will have significantly improved information processing and storing abilities thanks to their brains’ increased surface areas.
So, I ask you, is this so-called mutation of CHD8 a genetic defect or is it just the next step in human evolution? Will those who are presently deemed defective rule the world one day? Imagine that.