Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Why can't chimps speak?

12.11.2009
Study links evolution of single gene to human capacity for language

If humans are genetically related to chimps, why did our brains develop the innate ability for language and speech while theirs did not?

Scientists suspect that part of the answer to the mystery lies in a gene called FOXP2. When mutated, FOXP2 can disrupt speech and language in humans. Now, a UCLA/Emory study reveals major differences between how the human and chimp versions of FOXP2 work, perhaps explaining why language is unique to humans.

Published Nov. 11 in the online edition of the journal Nature, the findings provide insight into the evolution of the human brain and may point to possible drug targets for human disorders characterized by speech disruption, such as autism and schizophrenia.

"Earlier research suggests that the amino-acid composition of human FOXP2 changed rapidly around the same time that language emerged in modern humans," said Dr. Daniel Geschwind, Gordon and Virginia MacDonald Distinguished Chair in Human Genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Ours is the first study to examine the effect of these amino-acid substitutions in FOXP2 in human cells.

"We showed that the human and chimp versions of FOXP2 not only look different but function differently too," said Geschwind, who is currently a visiting professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London. "Our findings may shed light on why human brains are born with the circuitry for speech and language and chimp brains are not."

FOXP2 switches other genes on and off. Geschwind's lab scoured the genome to determine which genes are targeted by human FOXP2. The team used a combination of human cells, human tissue and post-mortem brain tissue from chimps that died of natural causes.

The chimp brain dissections were performed in the laboratory of coauthor Todd Preuss, associate research professor of neuroscience at Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

The scientists focused on gene expression — the process by which a gene's DNA sequence is converted into cellular proteins.

To their surprise, the researchers discovered that the human and chimp forms of FOXP2 produce different effects on gene targets in the human cell lines.

"We found that a significant number of the newly identified targets are expressed differently in human and chimpanzee brains," Geschwind said. "This suggests that FOXP2 drives these genes to behave differently in the two species."

The research demonstrates that mutations believed to be important to FOXP2's evolution in humans change how the gene functions, resulting in different gene targets being switched on or off in human and chimp brains.

"Genetic changes between the human and chimp species hold the clues for how our brains developed their capacity for language," said first author Genevieve Konopka, a postdoctoral fellow in neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "By pinpointing the genes influenced by FOXP2, we have identified a new set of tools for studying how human speech could be regulated at the molecular level."

The discovery will provide insight into the evolution of humans' ability to learn through the use of higher cognitive skills, such as perception, intuition and reasoning.

"This study demonstrates how critical chimps and macaques are for studying humans," noted Preuss. "They open a window into understanding how we evolved into who we are today."

Because speech problems are common to both autism and schizophrenia, the new molecular pathways will also shed light on how these disorders disturb the brain's ability to process language.

The National Institute of Mental Health, the A.P. Giannini Foundation and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression funded the study.

The UCLA coauthors included Jamee Bomar, Giovanni Coppola, Fuying Gao, Zophonias Jonsson, Sophia Peng, Kellen Winden and James Wohlschlegel.

Elaine Schmidt, eschmidt@mednet.ucla.edu (through Nov.10)
(310) 794-2272
Mark Wheeler, mwheeler@mednet.ucla.edu (after Nov. 10)
(310) 794-2265
Emily Rios, erios@emory.edu
(404) 727-7732

Elaine Schmidt | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mednet.ucla.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

Im Focus: Optoelectronic Inline Measurement – Accurate to the Nanometer

Germany counts high-precision manufacturing processes among its advantages as a location. It’s not just the aerospace and automotive industries that require almost waste-free, high-precision manufacturing to provide an efficient way of testing the shape and orientation tolerances of products. Since current inline measurement technology not yet provides the required accuracy, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is collaborating with four renowned industry partners in the INSPIRE project to develop inline sensors with a new accuracy class. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the project is scheduled to run until the end of 2019.

New Manufacturing Technologies for New Products

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation

22.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Plant inspiration could lead to flexible electronics

22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences

A rhodium-based catalyst for making organosilicon using less precious metal

22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>