The reason why humans speak and chimps don't is dependent on one gene, called FOXP2. New research reveals more about how humans' FOXP2 leads to speech. Could genetic engineering on chimps bring on a Planet of the Apes scenario?
It's been known for a while that the FOXP2 gene is involved in human speech - damage to the gene causes speech difficulties. But now a group of researchers in Los Angeles has investigated how FOXP2 works in humans, comparing it to the functioning of the gene in chimps. It turns out that FOXP2 functions as a gene regulator, which means that it unleashes proteins that can switch other genes, called "targets," on and off.
Said geneticist Daniel Geschwind:
We found that a significant number of the newly identified targets are expressed differently in human and chimpanzee brains. This suggests that FOXP2 drives these genes to behave differently in the two species.
In other words, human FOXP2 causes unique behaviors in other genes.
Added neurology researcher Genevieve Konopka:
Genetic changes between the human and chimp species hold the clues for how our brains developed their capacity for language. By pinpointing the genes influenced by FOXP2, we have identified a new set of tools for studying how human speech could be regulated at the molecular level.
Knowing what the FOXP2 gene does is just the first step. The question is whether tweaking the chimp FOXP2 could cause it to hit targets in the chimp genome that would lead to speaking chimps. You know, so we could turn them into perfect workers. Or into our future overlords.