Nature and nurture pg. 2
What, beyond the sheer number of genes, could explain the quantum leap in neurobiological complexity between a human being and a worm? One key lies in how these genes are “packaged” in human versus worm nuclei. The human genome includes long stretches of non-coding DNA that regulate gene expression cell to cell. This extra genetic material provides an organized, highly complex and flexible molecular network capable of driving the computational genius of human brain circuitry, and capable of responding to extrinsic cues (sounds, sights, touch, food, light, drugs, toxins, cruelty, abuse) perhaps in a more limitless fashion than in simpler species.
In 2002, the opportunity to build new research relationships led me from the University of Pittsburgh, where I was chair of the Department of Neurobiology, to Nashville to direct the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development. The center has a rich history of embracing interdisciplinary approaches to study brain disorders. Nicholas Hobbs, Lloyd Dunn, Susan Gray and their colleagues at the Peabody College believed that they could create assessment tools to describe better the nature of a particular brain disorder and through this improved characterization, develop cutting-edge strategies for intervention and treatment. These visionaries imagined the possibilities of doing bio-behavioral research and intervention at a time when technologies had not caught up with their imaginations.