Alex Pollen, PhD

Core

Over the last six million years, human cognition has changed in remarkable ways to support symbolic language, long-term planning, cooperation on vast scales, and the rapid cultural accumulation of technology. During this time, patterns of brain development and life history changed to triple the number of neurons produced prenatally, extend synaptic plasticity through a prolonged phase of development, and restructure connectivity between brain regions. At the same time tens of millions of mutations accumulated as fixed changes in the human genome through the processes of selection and drift. A portion of this new genomic information guides the development of uniquely human traits and contributes to disease vulnerabilities shared by all humans. However, connecting human-specific mutations to recently evolved traits remains a major challenge because we lack experimental systems for comparative and functional studies of great ape cortical development. To identify genomic differences underlying unique features or vulnerabilities of the human brain, we are incorporating advances in single cell genomics and genome engineering with cerebral organoid models of brain development. We are enthusiastic for new applicants to join the team, and the lab is well suited for those with an interest in evolution, neuropsychiatric disorders, neuronal cell diversity, stem cell models, or bioinformatics.