Scientists have taken a step forward in helping to solve one of life's greatest mysteries – what makes us human?
An international team of researchers have discovered a new gene that helps explain how humans evolved evolved from apes.
Scientists say the gene – called miR-941 – appears to have played a crucial role in human brain development and may shed light on how we learned to use tools and language.
Researchers say it is the first time that a new gene – carried only by humans and not by apes – has been shown to have a specific function within the human body.
A team at the University of Edinburgh compared the human genome to 11 other species of mammals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, mouse and rat, to find the differences between them.
The results, published in Nature Communications, showed that the gene – miR-941 – is unique to humans. The researchers say that it emerged between six and one million years ago, after humans had evolved from apes.
The gene is highly active in two areas of the brain that control our decision making and language abilities. The study suggests it could have a role in the advanced brain functions that make us human.
It is known that most differences between species occur as a result of changes to existing genes, or the duplication and deletion of genes.
But scientists say this gene emerged fully functional out of non-coding genetic material, previously termed "junk DNA", in a startlingly brief interval of evolutionary time. Until now, it has been remarkably difficult to see this process in action.
Researcher Dr Martin Taylor, who led the study at the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said the results were significant.
He said: "As a species, humans are wonderfully inventive – we are socially and technologically evolving all the time. But this research shows that we are innovating at a genetic level too. This new molecule sprang from nowhere at a time when our species was undergoing dramatic changes: living longer, walking upright, learning how to use tools and how to communicate. We're now hopeful that we will find more new genes that help show what makes us human."
University of Edinburgh: http://www.ed.ac.uk
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
From flying frogs to deep-sea squid, meet some of the other nosferatu of the animal kingdom
After 50 years of cutting-edge seafloor exploration, the Alvin submersible—renegade deep-sea explorer for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute—just got a long-deserved makeover. Alvin is the United States’ only deep-diving manned submersible used for science, so its upgrades will have a serious impact on the discoveries we can pull off in the deep.
Animals took so long to evolve and thrive on Earth because of incredibly low levels of oxygen during a period more than a billion years ago, scientists say.
By combining compounds in just the right mixture, researchers have worked out how to produce the olfactory equivalent of white noise
The pain that scratching causes soothes an itch – but only for a second. As soon as the brain's response to that pain kicks it, it ramps up the itch further
A man's lifelong fear of spiders vanished overnight with the removal of a part of his brain – it gives an insight into where and how our fears are stored
Scientists have been puzzling for years over why some people survive Ebola while many others perish. A new study provides strong evidence that individual genetic differences play a major role in whether people die from the disease.
Zookeepers are keeping an eye on the 120-pound giraffe calf, making sure he's getting all the nutrition he needs. He could make his first appearance in the feeding habitat as soon as next week.
Biologists are reporting signs of a possible zombie apocalypse. Well, at least for the honeybee population. A parasite that has been turning bees on the West Coast into zombie-like creatures has started infecting bees in the East, and biologists are still puzzled as to how it all works.
An innate ability some people have to manipulate their vocal frequency could be the key to sounding charismatic, according to new research.