Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Gene-Expression Tools Trace Evolution of Modern Human Language

BOSTON, Oct. 4 - Words, especially subtle differences in vocally uttered sounds and the shared meanings associated with them, are one of the things that set humans apart. But according to Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, language as we know it today may be a relatively new evolutionary wrinkle.

Speaking at TIGR's annual GSAC meeting here today, Pääbo said his group is preparing to kick off gene-expression research that will compare human genome sequences with those of chimpanzees and other primates to see whether modern language evolved in homo sapiens as early as 200,000 years ago.

"We want to see if there is evidence of some selective event that would have affected genes," said Pääbo, director of the Max Planck  Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, based in Leipzig, Germany.

The research, enabled by microarray analysis, is set to begin soon and will center on a mutation that affects a transcription factor that has already been linked to a specific human language disorder, according to Pääbo. This mutation, FoxP2 on chromosome 7, may be connected with an event in which a new favorable mutation quickly becomes incorporated into a species--in this case, one that enables the body and brain to work together to let the mouth do more than utter "ugh."

 

"We have to find the targets of this gene, what genes are turned on by this gene, what is turned on by the chimp version, the human version," said Pääbo.


"The mutation occurred and became fixed quite recently, within the last 200,000 years or so of human evolution, maybe more recently, it could have been 50,000 years; we can't say," he explained. Certainly, if research bears out this theory, modern language would have appeared millennia after homo sapiens diverged from Neanderthal, an event anthropologists contend occurred some 500,000 years ago.

"This is not the origin of language," said Pääbo. "There must have been vocal communication before that. This is the origin of modern, articulate language."

The Scan

Study Follows Consequences of Early Confirmatory Trials for Accelerated Approval Indications

Time to traditional approval or withdrawal was shorter when confirmatory trials started prior to accelerated approval, though overall regulatory outcomes remained similar, a JAMA study finds.

Sequencing Study Leads to Vaccine Target in Bacteria Behind Neonatal Meningitis

Researchers eBioMedicine track down potential vaccine targets with transposon sequencing on mutant bacteria causing neonatal meningitis in mouse models of the disease.

Multiple Myeloma Progression Influenced by Immune Microenvironment Expression

Researchers in NPJ Genomic Medicine compare RNA sequencing profiles of 102,207 individual cells in bone marrow samples from 18 individuals with rapid or non-progressing multiple myeloma.

Self-Reported Hearing Loss in Older Adults Begins Very Early in Life, Study Says

A JAMA Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery study says polygenic risk scores associated with hearing loss in older adults is also associated with hearing decline in younger groups.