September 01, 2010
Text: Martin Paetsch
When Philipp Khaitovich opens the door, he is greeted by a draft of fresh air. In the small room, it is noticeably cooler than outside in the hallway that, on this beautiful spring day, is bathed in sunlight. Inside, machines are humming. The room is packed with white cabinets and deep freezers. The freezers are covered with digital displays; a temperature recorder controls the degree of coldness inside: -80°C or lower. “Actually, it’s a waste of space,” says the young researcher, who heads a research group here in the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai. He would like more room for his students or for the small laboratory next door.
Inside the freezers are the treasures of his research team. There are dozens of brain samples from humans, chimpanzees and rhesus monkeys of different ages that Khaitovich has painstakingly collected. Using the pieces of tissue stored here, the scientists are seeking to discover more about the differences between humans and monkeys. By comparing the activity of genes and the concentration of various molecules in the brain samples, the team can determine how the development and aging progresses in the different species on the molecular level.