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Epigenetics and neuroplasticity: The case of the rewired ferrets

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File:Ferret 2008.png
ferret/Alfredo Gutierrez

Further to “First epigenetics, now epigenomics” (The people standing athwart epigenetics and yelling “Stop!” probably won’t like epigenomics any better), a reader kindly writes to remind us about the odd case of the rewired ferrets. Ah yes, this was back in 2000, but genes still ruled.

From New York Times April 25, 2000:

Like inventive electricians rewiring a house, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have reconfigured newborn ferret brains so that the animals’ eyes are hooked up to brain regions where hearing normally develops.

The surprising result is that the ferrets develop fully functioning visual pathways in the auditory portions of their brains. In other words, they see the world with brain tissue that was only thought capable of hearing sounds.

Th brain regions were found to “develop specialized functions based on the kind of information flowing into them after birth.”

”Some scientists are going to have a hard time believing these experiments,” said Dr. Jon Kaas, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. They demonstrate, Dr. Kaas said, ”that the cortex can develop in all sorts of directions.” More.

See also: DNA doesn’t even tell teeth what they should look like

“If DNA really rules, why did THIS happen?”, where human neurons, transplanted into a mouse, had a mouse morphology.

Jonathan Wells: Far from being all-powerful, DNA does not wholly determine biological form (Mutate a fruit fly embryo in every possible way, and observe only three possible outcomes: a normal fruit fly, a defective fruit fly, or a dead fruit fly.)

Jonathan Wells: We are far from a good theoretical model of organisms’ development (We are far from having a complete list of the components, as a matter of fact.)

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