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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Neuroscientists identify key role of language gene

"Neuroscientists have found that a gene mutation that arose more than half a million years ago may be key to humans' unique ability to produce and understand speech."
Researchers from MIT and several European universities have shown that the human version of a gene called Foxp2* makes it easier to transform new experiences into routine procedures. When they engineered mice to express humanized Foxp2, the mice learned to run a maze much more quickly than normal mice.
The findings suggest that Foxp2 may help humans with a key component of learning language -- transforming experiences, such as hearing the word "glass" when we are shown a glass of water, into a nearly automatic association of that word with objects that look and function like glasses, says Ann Graybiel, an MIT Institute Professor, member of MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and a senior author of the study.

All animal species communicate with each other, but humans have a unique ability to generate and comprehend language. Foxp2 is one of several genes that scientists believe may have contributed to the development of these linguistic skills. The gene was first identified in a group of family members who had severe difficulties in speaking and understanding speech, and who were found to carry a mutated version of the Foxp2 gene.