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!
Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
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...
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...
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...
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)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology