Primate brains vary in size and organization, but the genetic, developmental, and cellular basis for these differences has been difficult to study due to limited experimental models. Combining comparative single cell transcriptomics studies of normal development with brain organoids models now enables studying the mechanisms underlying evolved cellular specializations and vulnerabilities among primates. In this talk, I will describe two contrasting developmental mechanisms for the evolution of novel cell types in the primate lineage. However, qualitatively new cell types are rare in recent human evolution, and I will further describe approaches for studying human-specific gene network evolution in conserved cell types. Ultimately, functional studies in great ape stem cell models, complemented by comparisons and validation in available primary tissue, could be applied beyond studies of progenitor cell evolution to decode the genetic and developmental origin of recent changes in cellular organization, connectivity patterns, myelination, synaptic activity, and physiology that have been implicated in human cognition.
Alex Pollen — Dr. Alex Pollen is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Neurology at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF). His lab combines advances in single cell genomics, genome engineering, and great ape cerebral organoids to identify genomic differences underlying unique features or vulnerabilities of the human brain. Ultimately, he aims to identify novel therapeutic targets by combining an evolutionary approach to selective vulnerability of neurons with new cellular models. He received his PhD from Stanford University and completed his postdoctoral training at UCSF.