Scientists at Emory University have named a gene associated with memory and learning the "Homer Simpson gene," after the bone-headed patriarch of the cartoon family chronicled in Fox's hit show, The Simpsons. The researchers say that deleting the gene in mice made them more skilled at navigating mazes and remembering objects. The Medical Daily reports:
Deleting a certain gene in mice can make them smarter by unlocking a mysterious region of the brain considered to be relatively inflexible, scientists at Emory University School of Medicine have found.
Mice with a disabled RGS14 gene are able to remember objects they'd explored and learn to navigate mazes better than regular mice, suggesting that RGS14's presence limits some forms of learning and memory. The results were published online this week in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Since RGS14 appears to hold mice back mentally, John Hepler, PhD, professor of pharmacology at Emory University School of Medicine, says he and his colleagues have been jokingly calling it the "Homer Simpson gene."
If their conclusions are correct, they raise an odd question. Why would mice, who are researched so frequently in part because they share much of the DNA with humans, have evolved a gene that actually makes them less intelligent? The lead scientists on the research attempts an explanation. "I believe that we are not really seeing the full picture. RGS14 may be a key control gene in a part of the brain that, when missing or disabled, knocks brain signals important for learning and memory out of balance," he said.
Whatever the cause, we here at the Atlantic Wire welcome the continued research in the important field of Evolutionary Homerology. Here is a brief video summarizing the current body of knowledge: