Archive for the 'FOXP2' Category

Hear a Neanderthal Talk (and Other Interesting Neanderthal Language Rumblings) and New Scientist have recently reported on a couple of developments in the Neanderthal language debate.
Firstly, a new paper is in the works that will cast doubt upon the conclusions of the now famous Neanderthal FOXP2 paper from last year. Krause et al found the same adaptive variation of the language-implicated FOXP2 gene as is found in humans in Neanderthal DNA sequences, and claimed that the this was evidence for FOXP2 as a homologous trait that was present in our common ancestor. Cue endless headlines about how this finding is proof that Neanderthals had language.

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BBC Radio Documentary about Sequencing Neanderthal DNA

There was a great documentary about the attempts to sequence Neanderthal DNA on BBC Radio 4 last night, with a fairly extensive discussion about finding FOXP2. Well worth a listen if you get a chance. You can download it here, click on the ‘Listen Again’ link in the blue box on the left hand side of the screen.

Armand Leroi – What Makes Us Human

Here is a high quality copy of the second part of Armand Leroi‘s acclaimed What Makes Us Human? documentary. It’s a little shallow in its representation of the issues and occasionally might have you screaming at the screen in frustration. (Pinker’s misrepresentation of the Chimpanzee language research programme had the veins popping in my neck). Overall however, it is a very good overview of all the most popular ideas in the field and is packed with great footage of Alex the Parrot, children with FOXP2 abnormalities, studies into autism and an exploration of mirror neurons. Requires the DIVX codec


New FOXP2 Developments

Just following on from the comments on the last FOXP2 post. A new paper (Li G, Wang J, Rossiter SJ, Jones G, Zhang S, 2007) has revealed that FOXP2, a gene sequence implicated in the development language, is also rapidly evolved in echo-locating bats. Most vertebrates possess FOXP2, but several recent papers it was thought that only humans had significant species difference in the gene, being a full two amino acids different from chimpanzees. Given that this gene was implicated in both speech motor coordination and comprehension, it was felt that this was the first major example of a language gene – a gene heavily responsible for our evolved capacity for language.

This new paper follows in the line of some other recent papers that have shown FOXP2 manipulations in other animals, and which have suggested that FOXP2 is not a language gene per se, but a gene implicated in sophisticated communication and vocal production. The researchers sequenced the gene in both echolocating and non-echolocating bat species and found evidence of divergent selection and accelerated FOXP2 evolution compared to other vertebrates. Interestingly they performed a similar survey of cetations and found no significant results.

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