Scientists Have Found Some of the Genes That Make Us So Complex


Stomach cells are just one of about 170 different types found in the human body.
Stomach cells are just one of about 170 different types found in the human body.

The humble honey bee has just 250 million base pairs in its genome. Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries yellow fever and dengue fever, has so many more—1.3 billion base pairs, about as many as the eastern spot-billed duck. Cows have more still, about 2.7 billion base pairs, while we have about 3.2 billion. And then there’s the migratory locust, which beats out every other species (at least among the ones whose genomes we’ve sequenced) with a whopping 5.8 billion base pairs. If you were to rank these animals on how complex they are, you wouldn’t base your list on the size of their genomes—a cow or a human is arguably more complex than a locust, and ducks are clearly more complex than mosquitos.

“If you look at an earthworm and compare it to a human, you look more complex, you have different organs, you have different cell types,” says Colin Sharpe, a genetics researcher at the University of Portsmouth, and the coauthor of a recent study that examines the connection between genes and complexity. The commonly accepted way to measure complexity, says Sharpe, is to count the number of different cells types in an animal—muscle cells, skin cells, neurons, and so on. Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode worm frequently used in biology labs, has just 29 different cell types in its small body, while humans have about 170….

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

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Sasha Harriet

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