Print 93 comment(s) - last by drycrust3.. on Dec 7 at 2:24 AM

  (Source: Matt Groening/Fox)
Crucial gene controls higher brain growth

To the uninformed observer it may seem baffling how geneticists, biochemists, paleontologists, and other researchers can claim that two creatures that look as different as a man and a monkey could not only be "related" but have been produced by evolution over the last couple million years.

I. It's All in the Genes

But the key to understanding evolution is to understand genetics: our body is driven by protein enzymes, which catalyze critical processes inside the body.  Many proteins share common domains.  And the blueprints to all the proteins a creature makes are stored in a special highly-ordered storage construct called DNA.

While living organisms go to great lengths to preserve their genetic code without errors like swapped sections or deletions, occassionally during the process of making sperm and eggs such an error is made.  Most errors result in infertility or death of the offspring.  But occasionally just the right combination of protein domains has accidentally been clumped together, producing something that fundamentally transforms the organism.

Researchers have finally found a gene -- perhaps the gene -- which separates humans from the ancestors they share with apes.

Humans and apes, both members of the order Primates, share 96 percent of their genetic code.  Most of the remaining 4 percent is so-called "junk" DNA; stretches of mostly inactive code.

Rhesus macaque
Humans share 96 percent of their genetic code with primates, like this Rhesus macaque monkey.
[Image Source: Mark Snelson]

Of course, junk DNA is not useless geneticists and biochemists have recently discovered.  It has been shown to in many cases play a key role in regulation of other genes' expression and other "epigenetic" effects.

But researchers had yet to discover a truly active gene that humans have that apes lack -- until now.

II. miR-941 May Hold the Key to How Mankind is so Crafty

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have discovered a gene called miR-941, which is only found in humans and is absent in their primate relatives.

The gene was absent not only in the gorilla and chimpanzee genomes, but also in the genomes of other non-primates, such as mice and rats.  The gene, absent in all the other critters except for man, is mainly active in the brain; particularly in areas of the brain associated with so-called "higher brain" functions.  

The gene was actively being transcribed in the regions of the brain responsiible for language learning and decision making. Researchers hypothesize that it may play a key role in abilities that are largely unique to humans, such as formulating, understanding, and preserving multiple complex communications codes (languages) and developing advanced tools (weapons, machinery).

Human brain activity
The newly discovered human-unique gene is active in areas of the brain associated with higher thinking processes. [Image Source: Neuroimages Tumblr]

Some other creatures -- gorillas, parrots, dolphins, and whales -- show different levels of sign language or spoken/sung language skills.  And chimpanzees, octupi, and other creatures have been shown to use basic implements, like sticks, as tools.  However, only humans are known to manifest these helpful survival skills in more complex manners.

Now, modern genetics may have cracked a key mystery of human evolution and explained why.

The research was published in the prestigious peer-review journal Nature Communications.

Source: Nature Communications

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By drycrust3 on 11/23/2012 6:12:51 PM , Rating: -1
so they can finally promote that stubborn Relativity thingie from Theory to LAW

I have a theory that Pulsars are the light from distant galaxies that has been so "red shifted" that it red shifted the light into the microwave region. My theory is that in this process, and because of the laws for conservation of energy, in the process of red shifting the electromagnetic radiation broke up into pulses.
I also have a theory that low energy photons are emitted towards a force such as a strong centrifugal force or a strong source of gravity, and I think that is how the surface of the sun maintains its heat, why Jupiter emites heat that it receives from the sun, and which also explains how a vortex tube works. This is a variation upon Einstein's gravity lens. If I'm right then you will find colour distortion through a gravity lens, with reds bending more towards the gravity source and blues bending less.
I realise you don't think these have much to do with Relativity (or is it Quantum Physics?), but I do. I'm sure there are experts out there who will give me good reasons why I am wrong, but those are two of my current "Relativity" type theories.

By LRonaldHubbs on 11/23/2012 9:11:12 PM , Rating: 2
I realise you don't think these have much to do with Relativity

WTF are you talking about? Both red shift (Doppler effect for light) and gravitational lensing are well-known phenomena described by Relativity. Why would anyone here not think that they have much to do with it?

By drycrust3 on 11/24/2012 12:40:28 AM , Rating: 2
... red shift (Doppler effect for light) and ... are well-known phenomena described by Relativity.

Is it? Thanks for the update, I was unaware that anyone else thought that pulsars were actually so distant galaxies that the light from them had red shifted to the point that the light had become microwaves, and that in the process the electromagnetic radiation fragmented into a series of pulses.

By drycrust3 on 12/4/2012 6:55:28 AM , Rating: 2
Just to let you know, if the cause of the red shift was gravitational red shifting, then I think that one can argue that c (as in the speed of light) isn't constant. It could be that what we see as star light has spent most of its time traveling through space as a radio wave, at much higher speeds than what we normally expect.

By drycrust3 on 11/25/2012 10:24:17 AM , Rating: 2
I did a search for images relating to gravitational lenses and found this website:
The interesting thing is all the images they show where light has bent due to the gravitational force of a mass are blue. I would have expected there to have been a range of colours, not just blue. This makes me think that there is something else happening here.

By drycrust3 on 12/4/2012 3:44:44 PM , Rating: 2
When I look at those Hubble pictures, it looks to me like gravitational lensing is quite common, and that the most popular colour is blue, and that multiple images of the same galaxy can occur.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki