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Perspectives on trends, ideas and technologies

Genetically Thinking

Gene E. Robinson, director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois recently wrote an article on how ‘brains work via their genes as much as their neurons’. As it turns out, the way we think and respond to situations are far more rooted in genetic material than anticipated.

Gene Robinson, University of Illinois

Gene Robinson, University of Illinois

Robinson writes about a ‘close coupling’ between ‘brain gene activity and behaviour’, citing earlier studies his team had carried out on bees. One particularly interesting example was when they found that the bees were changed behaviourally as well as in terms of brain gene activity hours after experiencing a threat in the hive. 

A cat’s neuron stained with Golgi’s technique, Santiago Ramón y Cajal

A cat’s neuron stained with Golgi’s technique, Santiago Ramón y Cajal

What are the implications of these discoveries? How has our behaviour today been shaped by the experiences of our ancestors? Just as importantly if not more so, how might daily occurrences impact our genetic activity and hence that of our descendants? 

What are the opportunities that could be defined from learning how to navigate this ‘close coupling’? How will neuromarketing evolve in relation to such discoveries? What new products and services might emerge from harnessing this new knowledge?

This brings to mind Merel Bekking’s project Brain Manufacturing, where she attempted to create the perfect design for individuals according to information obtained from MRI scans of their brains. Whether she was successful remains debatable on several levels, but I think Robinson ends on a great note which I’d like to share here:

If we can become proficient in the code our brains run on, perhaps we can learn to give these narratives a nudge in the right direction, and flood every person’s world with light.

I think that sums it up perfectly for now.