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One Gene to Shape the Face

Just one gene influences much of the development of the human face, New Scientist reports. It notes that the same gene has been implicated in the domestication of dogs, suggesting that people may have domesticated themselves.

A University of Milan-led team of researchers examined genes associated with Williams-Beuren syndrome and Williams-Beuren region duplication syndrome, conditions marked by craniofacial defects as well as cognitive and behavioral traits associated with domestication-related traits like friendliness and aggression, in neural crest cells. As they report this week in Science Advances, the researchers found the chromatin remodeler BAZ1B to be a master regulator of facial development, affecting the expression of more than 400 other genes.

Many of the genes regulated by BAZ1B are thought to have been important in recent human evolution since modern humans harbor different versions than Neanderthals had, New Scientist adds.

These new findings, the researchers say, lend credence to the human self-domestication hypothesis. Senior author Giuseppe Testa from the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, though, tells New Scientist that it's not yet fully clear how BAZ1B might have led to people being more sociable.