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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 retrospooty on 11/24/2012 1:28:02 PM , Rating: 2
Where have you been for the past 150 years? The "theory of evolution" was called that prior to it being proven, now that it has long since been proven, it is just called evolution, also called scientific fact. It's been proven many times over. Its not even a debate anymore. There are those that understand the true history of Earth and what happened here, and how life evolved and there are uneducated dorfs that cant accept reality. It's been proven time and time again. Its been proven int he 100's of thousands of fossils found all over hte earth, its been proven in our DNA, its been proven via geological evidence as well as archaeological evidence. It has also been witnessed as strains of germs develop resistances antibiotics. It is also proven in human skin color. The difference between black and white people is simply that white people skins lightened as they moved to less sunny environments to allow the body to get more vitamin D. The UV rays of the sun kill it and dark skin is a mutation to protect it. Skin color evolved to maintain the correct levels. There is no debate that evolution happened. We may not know how it started, and/or who started it or possibly created the laws of the universe that enabled it but we know it happened.

If you want to have a religious debate, it can be said that a god or whatever created the universe and the laws of physics that allowed evolution to happen. You could even debate that a god created evolution with humans in mind as the end result, but you CANNOT say that evolution didnt happen... It is absolutely 100% proven. IF you think it isnt you need to go back to school, because your bible college has lied to you and given you false talking points to try and discredit proven science.

By xthetenth on 11/24/2012 2:48:24 PM , Rating: 2
The key thing about evolution is that it is a proposed mechanism which inherently makes predictions about the world and those predictions have repeatedly shown themselves true.

Things like forests, where all the trees could save energy and nutrient intake by being shorter but each individual tree has an incentive to grow taller invariably show that the changes which increase individual fitness even at the cost of serious expense for the ecosystem as a whole are favored strongly. The competition between species where average individual success is rewarded rather than the good of the ecosystem as a whole is a major claim of the scientific theory of evolution and the myriad examples of it are evidence for it (I'm using scientific theory to distinguish "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment" from "a bunch of ideas they've been kicking around for a while").

The fossil record is another vital piece of evidence. A single evolutionary descendent that could be proven to have existed before its predecessor would discredit the whole theory. None so far have been found, but many, many "missing links" have been found (the missing link is a ridiculous concept because species are an artificial distinction applied to a gradual progression with no fixed beginning or end which is as ridiculous as trying to look at the gradient of all colors and trying to pick the precise wavelength at which light stops being red and starts being orange when the reddest orange and orangest red will be nearly indistinguishable).

A scientific theory is a proposed mechanism which explains why some things work the way they do and it makes predictions and those predictions must never be false. Otherwise it will cease to be a theory.

By Cheesew1z69 on 11/24/2012 7:04:52 PM , Rating: 2
Evolution is as far as science is concerned is DEAD.
You really are an idiot aren't you? Evolution is real. There is nothing to debate about it. It's a FACT.

It has no basis and really only exists today as a religious fantasy.

By retrospooty on 11/24/2012 7:31:39 PM , Rating: 2
I'm starting to think now that your trolling. Because no 1 can be that incredibly and totally made by scientists about evolution haven't been disproved, they support each other thousands and thousands and thousands of times over with collaborative data from fossil evidence , geological evidence, archaeological evidence and DNA evidence. Just because you're to mind numbingly ignorant to understand these things doesn't make them not true, it just makes you ignorant.and if you are just trolling, whatever that's almost equally ignorant. I really hope that you are trolling because it saddens me to think that people are really that dumb. your intellectual level has come nowhere for the past 2000 years. Proving that some of us evolve faster than others

By Cheesew1z69 on 11/24/2012 7:33:36 PM , Rating: 2
Because no 1 can be that incredibly and totally ignorant
Not true, there are a few on here that are. Won't name names though.

By retrospooty on 11/24/2012 7:52:39 PM , Rating: 1
You are probably right. Its ironic that those who are intellectually closer to apes than the rest of us are the ones that don't think we evolved from them. LOL

By Cheesew1z69 on 11/24/2012 7:55:15 PM , Rating: 2

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