Study: Single Gene, Plus Some "Junk" DNA Turned Ape Ancestors Into Modern Man
November 23, 2012 11:03 AM
comment(s) - last by
(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
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
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.
Humans share 96 percent of their genetic code with primates, like this
[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
, 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).
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
in the prestigious peer-review journal
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
11/23/2012 10:13:23 PM
Morality/Ethics aside, does this mean we can now hack the genome of chimps/monkeys/apes/gorillas or other animals in general to make the more intelligent?
11/26/2012 11:39:46 AM
Sounds like the plot of a recent movie!
"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad
Long Standing Evolutionary Mystery Solved, Man Gets New Ancient Relatives
August 9, 2012, 2:58 PM
Brain Activity Decoded To Produce Words, Could Produce Method of Mind-Reading
February 1, 2012, 1:30 PM
Neanderthal Sex Gave Europeans and Asians Stronger Immune Systems
August 26, 2011, 4:20 PM
Study Indicates Human, Chimp Males Evolving Faster than Females
January 14, 2010, 10:40 AM
Life in the Fast-lane: Human Evolution Accelerating
December 12, 2007, 3:18 PM
Star Wars Spinoff Film "Rogue One", Theme Park Attractions Announced
August 17, 2015, 12:20 PM
SpaceX Falcon 9's Seventh Supply Mission to ISS Ends w/ Fiery Stage 1 Explosion
June 28, 2015, 1:10 PM
Cool Science Video: Glowing Millipede Prowls the Nevada Desert
May 18, 2015, 12:00 PM
Newly Discovered Costa Rican Glass Frog is Kermit's Doppelgänger
April 22, 2015, 11:26 AM
Researchers Hope to Find "Exotic" Lifeforms Inside Crater of Dinosaur Killing Meteor
April 14, 2015, 8:47 PM
Mathematician's Sociological Formulation May Explain the "Hipster Paradox"
April 14, 2015, 1:13 PM
Most Popular Articles
Why the U.S. Won't be Able to Ban Google's New Huawei Marshmallow Flagship Phone
October 3, 2015, 5:27 PM
Apple's First Fixes to iOS 9 Land w/ iOS 9.0.1 Release
September 23, 2015, 6:11 PM
Apple Watch Commands 2 in 3 Smart Watch Sales, WatchOS 2 Sweetens the Pitch
September 20, 2015, 6:07 PM
Tag Heuer Admits Its $1,800 Smartwatch Was Inspired By Apple -- Price-Wise
September 30, 2015, 6:32 PM
Breaking Bad: How to Crash Google's Chrome Browser With Just 8 Characters
September 23, 2015, 11:08 AM
Latest Blog Posts
Sceptre Airs 27", 120 Hz. 1080p Monitor/HDTV w/ 5 ms Response Time for $220
Dec 3, 2014, 10:32 PM
Costco Gives Employees Thanksgiving Off; Wal-Mart Leads "Black Thursday" Charge
Oct 29, 2014, 9:57 PM
"Bear Selfies" Fad Could Turn Deadly, Warn Nevada Wildlife Officials
Oct 28, 2014, 12:00 PM
The Surface Mini That Was Never Released Gets "Hands On" Treatment
Sep 26, 2014, 8:22 AM
ISIS Imposes Ban on Teaching Evolution in Iraq
Sep 17, 2014, 5:22 PM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2015 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information