Uniquely Human Features of the Brain

Friday, October 07, 2011

Biographical Sketches: Co-Chairs

Fred Gage
Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Fred H. Gage is a professor in the Laboratory of Genetics and the past President (2018-2023) of the Salk Institute. He is an adjunct professor at UC San Diego, and emeritus Co-Director of CARTA. Dr. Gage concentrates on the adult central nervous system and unexpected plasticity and adaptability to environmental stimulation that remains throughout the life of all mammals. His work may lead to methods of replacing or enhancing brain and spinal cord tissues lost or damaged due to Neurodegenerative disease or trauma. Gage's lab showed that, contrary to accepted dogma, human beings are capable of growing new nerve cells throughout life. Small populations of immature nerve cells are found in the adult mammalian brain, a process called Neurogenesis. He is working to understand how these cells can be induced to become mature functioning nerve cells in the adult brain and spinal cord. They showed that environmental enrichment and physical exercise can enhance the growth of new brain cells and they are studying the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms that may be harnessed to repair the aged and damaged brain and spinal cord. He is a member of the National Academy of Science and the Institute of Medicine.

Todd Preuss
Emory University School of Medicine, Yerkes Primate Research Center

Todd Preuss is a biological anthropologist and neuroscientist. He is Professor Emeritus of Pathology, Emory University School of Medicine and the Division of Neuropharmacology and Neurologic Diseases at the Emory National Primate Research Center. His research has focused on the organization and evolution of primate cerebral cortex, particularly visual and frontal cortex, and he has authored a series of papers exploring the application of modern phylogenetic concepts and methods to problems of brain evolution. Recently, his research has concentrated on identifying evolutionary specializations of cerebral cortex, using information derived from genomics studies to guide histological and anatomical investigations, and comparative neuroimaging studies of humans, chimpanzees, and other nonhuman primates.

Biographical Sketches: Speakers

John Allman
California Institute of Technology

John Allman is the Frank P. Hixon Professor of Neurobiology, California Institute of Technology. Evolution of the brain and behavior in primates. The anatomy and physiology of the visual system in primates. The role of  frontoinsular and anterior cingulate cortex in emotion and cognition. Functional magnetic resonance imaging of economic decision-making. Recent book: Evolving Brains, Scientific American Library/WH Freeman, 2000.

Wolfgang Enard
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

Wolfgang Enard is professor for anthropology and human genomics at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany. Until 2012 he was in the group of Svante Pääbo at the MPI in Leipzig on genetic differences between humans and apes. He worked on comparing gene expression patterns between humans and chimpanzees, was part of the international chimpanzee sequencing consortium and studied the evolution of FOXP2, a gene involved in speech and language development. Currently he is mainly focusing on generating and using primate iPS cells in combination with scRNA-seq to decipher the evolution of molecular circuitries.

Pascal Gagneux
UC San Diego

Pascal Gagneux is a Professor of Pathology and Anthropology at UC San Diego and serves as CARTA's Executive Co-Director. He is interested in the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for generating and maintaining primate molecular diversity. The Gagneux laboratory studies cell-surface molecules in closely related primates species. His focus is on glycans, the oligosaccharides attached to glycolipids and glycoproteins of the surfaces of every cell and also secreted into the extra-cellular matrix. His laboratory is exploring the roles of molecular diversity in protecting populations from pathogens as well as potential consequences for reproductive compatibility. Dr. Gagneux’s interest is in how glycan evolution is shaped by constraints from endogenous biochemistry and exogenous, pathogen-mediated natural selection, but could also have consequences for sexual selection. Dr. Gagneux has studied the behavioral ecology of wild chimpanzees in the Taï Forest, Ivory Coast, population genetics of West African chimpanzees, and differences in sialic acid biology between humans and great apes with special consideration of their differing pathogen regimes.

In 2011, while Associate Director of CARTA, Dr. Gagneux helped to establish a graduate specialization in Anthropogeny at UC San Diego. This wholly unique graduate specialization is offered through eight participating graduate programs in the social and natural sciences at UC San Diego.

Michael Gazzaniga
UC Santa Barbara

Michael Gazzaniga is the Director of the Sage Center for the study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He received a Ph.D from the California Institute of Technology, where he worked with Roger Sperry, and had primary responsibility for initiating human split-brain research. He has established Centers for Cognitive Neuroscience at Cornell Medical School, the University of California-Davis and at Dartmouth. He is the founding editor of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. He was a member of the President's Council on Bioethics from 2001-2009. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. His new book is based on his Gifford Lectures-- Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the science of the brain.

William Hopkins
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

William D. Hopkins is professor of psychology at Agnes Scott College and a research scientist at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. His research focuses on the evolution of hemispheric specialization in relation to higher order cognition, including language.   He has also conducted numerous studies on the evolution of population-level handedness in primates and the role of genetic and non-genetic factors on their development. Hopkins received his bachelor's degree in 1983 from the University of Wisconsin and his master's (1986) and Ph.D. from Georgia State University (1990).

James Rilling
Emory University

James K. Rilling is a Professor of Anthropology at Emory University, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He is also an affiliate scientist at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and a faculty member of the Center for Translational Social Neuroscience. Dr. Rilling and his colleagues use non-invasive brain imaging techniques to compare brain structure and function in monkeys, apes and humans, with the goal of identifying human brain specializations and informing our knowledge of human brain evolution. In addition, Dr. Rilling's lab conducts research on the biological bases of human social behavior, with an emphasis on cooperation and paternal caregiving. 

Katerina Semendeferi
UC San Diego

Katerina Semendeferi is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Laboratory for Human Comparative Neuroanatomy at UC San Diego. She became a member of CARTA (then LOH) in 1998, soon after joining the faculty at UC San Diego, and later was asked to join the CARTA advisory board, before becoming a CARTA Co-Director in July 2022. Semendeferi is also Co-Director of the Archealization Center and advisory board member of Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at UC San Diego. In 2012 Semendeferi was Elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Beginning during her time in graduate school at the University of Iowa, Semendeferi undertook two major initiatives in the field of human brain evolution. One initiative involved establishing collaborations with zoos across the U.S. aimed to make available to science the brains of apes, following their natural death. The other initiative involved the novel application of structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology on the collected postmortem brain specimens, followed by a postdoctoral NIH fellowship in 1995 to begin scanning, in collaboration with the Yerkes Primate Research Center, the brain of living apes. These early initiatives provided comparative material and opportunities for many students of human and ape neuroanatomy and planted the seeds for the establishment of primate brain banks and the subsequent larger scale application of non-invasive imaging techniques on living apes in this country.

Semendeferi’s studies of the fronto-limbic circuitry showed that the relative size of the frontal cortex is remarkably similar across apes and humans and that evolutionary changes are found is some, but not all, regions of the human frontal lobe and amygdala. Her laboratory explores links between the phylogenetically reorganized brain regions and their implication in vulnerabilities observed in atypical human neurodevelopment (Autism and Williams Syndrome). Semendeferi has been involved with other approaches to the study of human evolution, including the fossil record, and participated in archeological and paleoanthropological excavations in the United States, Europe and Asia. She maintains an interest in bringing together multiple fields of inquiry including efforts to bridge classical quantitative neuroanatomy with the field of induced pluripotent stem cells and brain organoids.

Chet Sherwood
The George Washington University

Dr. Sherwood is a biological anthropologist interested in brain evolution and its behavioral correlates in primates and other mammals. Dr. Sherwood's comparative neuroanatomical research has focused on issues related to allometric scaling at macro- and microanatomical levels, brain asymmetry and behavioral lateralization, evolutionary changes in human language area homologues, the anatomical basis of phylogenetic differences in orofacial motor capacities, and neurochemical substrates of cognitive differences among primate species. 

Ajit Varki
UC San Diego School of Medicine

Ajit Varki is Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Cellular & Molecular Medicine, Founding Co-Director of CARTA, Founding Director of the Glycobiology Research and Training Center (GRTC) at UC San Diego, and Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute. He received basic training in physiology, medicine, biology, and biochemistry at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, The University of Nebraska, and Washington University in St. Louis. He also has formal training and board certification in internal medicine, hematology, and oncology. Dr. Varki is Executive Editor of Essentials of Glycobiology (Cold Spring Harbor Press) and is recipient of a MERIT award from the NIH, and an American Cancer Society Faculty Research Award. Honorific elections include the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Society for Clinical Investigation, and the Association of American Physicians. He is also recipient of the three highest honors in his field, the Karl Meyer Award of the Society for Glycobiology, the International Glycoconjugate Organization Award and the Rosalind Kornfeld Award for Lifetime Achievement in Glycobiology. He is recognized for creating the first major open access research journal (J. Clin. Invest., 1996) as well as the first major open access textbook (Essentials of Glycobiology, 2009). He was honored with the Old Cottonian of Eminence Award at the 150th Anniversary of Bishop Cotton Boys School, Bangalore, India, (2015) as well as a Distinguished Faculty Medal and Oration at his medical school alma mater, CMC, Vellore. Significant past appointments include: co-head, UC San Diego Division of Hematology-Oncology; President of the Society for Glycobiology; Editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Investigation; Interim director of the UC San Diego Cancer Center, President of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, and UC San Diego Associate Dean for Physician-Scientist Training. Dr. Varki's research interests are focused on a family of cell surface sugars called sialic acids, and their roles in biology, evolution and disease. Currently active projects are relevant to the roles of sialic acids in microbial infectivity, the regulation of the immune response, the progression and spread of tumors, aging, and unique aspects of human evolution. His group is particularly intrigued to find multiple interrelated differences in sialic acid biology between humans and our closest evolutionary cousins, the "great apes". These differences are a signature of the events that occurred during the last few million years of human evolution, and appear to be relevant to understanding several aspects of the current human condition, both in health and disease. Dr. Varki’s book, Denial (Twelve, Hachette Books 2013), explores a novel "Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory that denying reality and personal mortality was a key step in allowing the emergence of a full theory of mind, and in the origin of our species.