What makes us human? A biased view from the perspective of comparative embryology and mouse genetics.
For a neurobiologist, the core of human nature is the human cerebral cortex, especially the prefrontal areas, and the question "what makes us human?" translates into studies of the development and evolution of the human cerebral cortex, a clear oversimplification. In this comment, after pointing out this oversimplification, I would like to show that it is impossible to understand our cerebral cortex if we focus too narrowly on it. Like other organs, our cortex evolved from that in stem amniotes, and it still bears marks of that ancestry. More comparative studies of brain development are clearly needed if we want to understand our brain in its historical context. Similarly, comparative genomics is a superb tool to help us understand evolution, but again, studies should not be limited to mammals or to comparisons between human and chimpanzee, and more resources should be invested in investigation of many vertebrate phyla. Finally, the most widely used rodent models for studies of cortical development are of obvious interest but they cannot be considered models of a "stem cortex" from which the human type evolved. It remains of paramount importance to study cortical development directly in other species, particularly in primate models, and, whenever ethically justifiable, in human.