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  (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

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By xthetenth on 11/24/2012 1:25:32 PM , Rating: 2
Why shouldn't someone dismiss god due to lack of evidence? There's a huge difference between believing something doesn't exist due to lack of evidence (which is effectively trying to prove a negative) and believing that since something has no observable effect on any of the universe that it is of inconsequential importance and there's no reason to include it in your view of the cosmos. Occam's Razor is a pretty good guiding principle here. It doesn't matter what's lurking out there in the unexplained gaps until it does something, and in doing something it gives us measurements to discern its nature from. Until then there isn't much point guessing. Sure, denying the possibility is narrow-minded, but believing in one specific theistic explanation as a major component of your worldview and denying the infinite other possibilities is even more narrow-minded because it's adding terms to the equation where the net effect of those terms has to be zero and it's insisting that one specific answer is the right one. What if there's something extra and it just so happens to be the one that I am invested in rings pretty hollow as a line of reasoning.

Just so you know, the Greeks had pretty good estimates for the circumference of the Earth. Look up Eratosthenes. He calculated a remarkably accurate value for the circumference of the earth and for the axial tilt of the Earth. Equally important to what you're saying, he tried to calculate the circumference of .the Earth.

Once people had the basic geometric tools to reason about such things, they discovered them rapidly. Such is the progression of all science and technology. Discover something about the workings of the universe, and derived knowledge follows quickly

By drycrust3 on 11/24/2012 7:31:35 PM , Rating: 2
Just so you know, the Greeks had pretty good estimates for the circumference of the Earth. Look up Eratosthenes. He calculated a remarkably accurate value for the circumference of the earth and for the axial tilt of the Earth. Equally important to what you're saying, he tried to calculate the circumference of .the Earth.

You are right, the work of Eratosthenes is amazing. According to Wikipedia he calculated the earth as about 25000 miles in circumference, while modern measurements say it is 24909. To get that close with the numbering system he was using and that all the maths was done the long way is an amazing feat, but did you know the Bible contains a feat of mathematical precision is actually even more incredible? In fact this feat would have left Eratosthenes astounded. True!
Did you know that someone calculated the number of days from the issuing of the decree to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem by Artaxerxes Longimanus to the day when Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem was exactly 173880 days?. "So what" you say. "That isn't anywhere near as good as what Eratosthenes did". The big difference is this person did it IN ADVANCE, i.e. they calculated the number of days BEFORE even the decree was issued! No, I'm not kidding, this person calculated that 173880 days after the issuing of the decree to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem which the Babylonians had destroyed Jesus would ride the donkey into Jerusalem. The decree was issued about 169 years before the birth of Eratosthenes. After doing the calculations, the person sent his most important messenger to the prophet Daniel with the results in his writings that have come to us from antiquity.
Here is the link for you to look at:
p.s. the person I elude to as "the person" is God.

By retrospooty on 11/25/2012 1:32:50 PM , Rating: 2
At least, that is how it was written after the fact. Then milled over and changed by teams of control freaks at the Vatican before finally "canonized" into what we know as the bible today.

I find the bible nothing but a joke. If you aren't in agreement, I beg you to go read the old testament again. The god described there isn't some all powerful all knowing being that created us all. The god described in the bibles old testament is childish, petty, jealous and vengeful. A true picture into the mind of the primitive uneducated men that wrote the book.

By drycrust3 on 11/25/2012 9:07:55 PM , Rating: 2
At least, that is how it was written after the fact.

How can something be written after the fact when the main language used changed about 200 years before the birth of Jesus? You didn't read the link that I included, which gives very good reasons why what I said was correct.
I'm sure you would blindly accept the first writer's bit about Eratosthenes without any hesitation, yet the Book of Daniel is one of the most thoroughly attested documents to come to us from that time in antiquity and you don't believe it?

By retrospooty on 11/26/2012 7:05:45 AM , Rating: 2
Written, re-written, re-rewritten and re-re-re-rewritten, then mulled over , picked apart and re-packaged.

By elderwilson on 11/26/2012 10:42:16 AM , Rating: 2
You forgot to add translated, re-translated, and re-re-translated. Anyone who speaks more than one language knows how even one translation can completely change the meaning.

This is not to say that the collection of independent works commonly known as the Bible is without value, you just have to understand what you are reading and where it comes from.

By retrospooty on 11/26/2012 11:09:40 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly... If you are looking for it, it has some wisdom and real life value and morality and all that, but it is NOT anything of a history of life on planet Earth, and how it came to be.

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