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Language and the FOXP2 gene

Discovery of the FOXP2 gene in the 1990s prompted excited claims in the press that the "gene for language" had been found. Although this was obviously nonsense, the gene is extremely interesting.

The gene was found as the result of investigations of a family, about half of whose members have multiple problems including particularly difficulty with speech. The defects are partly related to articulation and partly intellectual. The condition is inherited as an autosomal dominant gene.

The FOXP2 gene is found in a number of different mammals. It is identical in gorilla, chimpanzee, and rhesus monkey and differs by only one amino acid in the mouse. But human FOXP2 differs from that in apes and monkeys by two amino acids (and therefore by three amino acids from that in mice). The suggestion is that the mutation was necessary (though not sufficient) for the development of human speech.

There is much more to the discovery of the FOXP2 gene than this. For a good discussion of the subject, see this link.


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