Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Neandertals, humans share key changes to 'language gene'

A new study published online on October 18th in Current Biology reveals that adaptive changes in a human gene involved in speech and language were shared by our closest extinct relatives, the Neandertals.

The finding reveals that the human form of the gene arose much earlier than scientists had estimated previously. It also raises the possibility that Neandertals possessed some of the prerequisites for language.

The gene, which is called FOXP2, is the only one known to date to play a role in speech and language, according to the researchers. People who carry an abnormal copy of the FOXP2 gene have speech and language problems.

“From the point of view of this gene, there is no reason to think that Neandertals would not have had the ability for language,” said Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He noted, however, that many as-yet-unknown genes might underlie the capacity for language. Once found, those would have to be examined in Neandertals as well.

Previous analyses indicated that a very recent rise in the human FOXP2 variant had occurred as a result of strong selection, less than 200,000 years ago, added Svante Pääbo, also of the Max Planck Institute. “Because we know that Neandertal and modern human populations diverged more than 300,000 years ago, we would have guessed that these changes in FOXP2 would have happened after we separated from Neandertals,” Pääbo said, noting that the human version of FOXP2 differs from that of chimps in two places.

The researchers extracted DNA from Neandertal fossils collected in a cave in northern Spain. They exhumed the bones under sterile conditions and froze them before transporting them to the laboratory. They then extracted DNA and sequenced the Neandertal FOXP2 gene, revealing that it was identical to the version found in modern humans. To ensure that the Neandertal DNA samples hadn’t been contaminated with human DNA, they also sequenced parts of their Y chromosome, which was found to be distinct from that of men today.

In addition to its potential implications for the acquisition of language, the study also marks the first time a specific nuclear gene has been retrieved from Neandertals—opening the door to other breakthroughs in scientists’ understanding of human and Neandertal evolution, the researchers said.

“The current results show that the Neandertals carried a FOXP2 protein that was identical to that of present-day humans in the only two positions that differ between human and chimpanzee,” the researchers concluded. “Leaving out the unlikely scenario of gene flow [between the two lineages], this establishes that these changes were present in the common ancestor of modern humans and Neandertals.

The date of the emergence of these genetic changes therefore must be older than that estimated with only extant human diversity data, thus demonstrating the utility of direct evidence from Neandertal DNA sequences for understanding recent modern human evolution."

Nancy Wampler | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

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: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>