Wednesday, November 14, 2012
An international team of researchers have discovered a new gene that helps explain how humans evolved from chimpanzees
Scientists say the gene - called miR-941 - appears to have played a crucial role in human brain development and may shed light on how we learned to use tools and language. Researchers say that it is the first time that a new gene - carried only by humans and not by apes - has been shown to have a specific function within the human body. A team of scientists compared the human genome to 11 other species of mammals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, mouse and rat, to find the differences between them. The results showed that the gene - miR-941 - is unique to humans. The researchers say that it emerged between six and one million years ago, after humans had evolved from apes. The gene is highly active in two areas of the brain that control our decision making and language abilities. The study suggests it could have a role in the advanced brain functions that make us human. It is known that most differences between species occur as a result of changes to existing genes, or the duplication and deletion of genes. But scientists say this gene emerged fully functional out of non-coding genetic material, previously termed "junk DNA," in a startlingly brief interval of evolutionary time. Until now, it has been remarkably difficult to see this process in action.