The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Neandertal paleogenomics and the origins of language


Institute of Evolutionary Biology, CSIC-UPF

Thursday 2:15-2:30, Grand Ballroom II Add to calendar

The development of human speech involved complex cerebral and genetic changes during hominin evolution, as well as a precise sensory-motor coordination. One gene, FOXP2, is known to play a key role in language, since its inactivation in some humans produces problems with grammar and language comprehension, but also in correct fine mouth movements. FOXP2 is a transcription factor (eg, a gene that activates the expression of about one hundred other genes), and likely plays a crucial role in the neuronal organisation associated to oro-facial movements. Despite being among the most conserved genes in mammals, the FOXP2 differs from that of great apes by two amino-acid changes, mutations that likely took place in the last few hundreds of thousands of years during hominin evolution. The retrieval of these positions in Neandertals from El SidrĂ³n (Spain) and Vindija (Croatia) showed they shared with us the same gene version and thus, likely had similar language capabilities. Future research would focuss on possible modifications of regulatory regions near the FOXP2 in modern humans and also in the functional analysis of other potential genes related not only to language, but also to brain organisation.

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