(New Scientist.com, 25, Sept 2012) - Chimps may be similar to us in many ways but they can't compete when it comes to brain size. Now for the first time we can see when the differences emerge by tracking the brain development of unborn chimps.
As seen in this video, Tomoko Sakai and colleagues from Kyoto University in Japan subjected a pregnant chimp to a 3D ultrasound to gather images of the fetus between 14 and 34 weeks of development. The volume of its growing brain was then compared to that of an unborn human.
The team found that brain size increases in both chimps and humans until about 22 weeks, but after then only the growth of human brains continues to accelerate. This suggests that as the brain of modern humans rapidly evolved, differences between the two species emerged before birth as well as afterwards.
The researchers now plan to examine how different parts of the brain develop in the womb, particularly the forebrain, which is responsible for decision-making, self-awareness and creativity.