language

Why chimps don’t talk?

All the news came out last week about the FOXP2 gene, but I can’t help and post it here a week late anyway:

Chimps, our nearest relative, don’t talk. We do. Now scientists have pinpointed a mutation in a gene that might help explain the difference.

The mutation seems to have helped humans develop speech and language. It’s probably not the only gene involved, but researchers found the gene looks and acts differently in chimps and humans, according to a study published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Lab tests showed that the human version regulated more than 100 other genes differently from the chimp version. This particular gene — called FOXP2 — mutated around the time humans developed the ability to talk.

“It’s really playing a major role in chimp-human differences,” said the study’s author, Daniel Geschwind, a professor of neurology, psychiatry and human genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles. “You mutate this gene in humans and you get a speech and language disorder.”

This tells you “what may be happening in the brain,” he said.

Read the full Associated Press story.

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How to make your own primordial soup

A team discovered how to get RNA molecules to not only replicate, but how to grab other useful pieces of RNA, attach them to their string, and replicate themselves with the new pieces. This in effect mirrors how DNA started replicating itself and getting more complicated, thereby creating a primordial noodle dish. Bon Appetite!

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The outer limits…of humans

I’ve been collecting some weird stuff that doesn’t necessarily correlate directly to humans and culture, but they all do in a roundabout, sideways, too-cool-to-not-mention sort of way.

For starters, some researchers have found evidence that humans have taste buds for calcium. I wonder if there is a difference between cultures who practically live off milk compared to those who don’t.

Also, there is a cool YouTube video about parasitic worms that can actually recreate or at least mimic the genes of their host insect to the extent that they can send messages to the insect’s “brain” and make the insects do what they want, including commit suicide by jumping into a body of water so the worm can escape, essentially turning the bug into a zombie. As the researcher mentions in the video, this has implications for human parasitic diseases (which I can’t remember right now but if you watch the video he will explain it better).

Getting back into the traditional “Anthropology” stuff, German anthropologists have been able to genetically trace bones from the Bronze Age to a pair of men living in a village nearby the cave where the bones were found, making this the longest family tree in history.

As a cool example of the power of motherhood and how much dogs have evolved to be co-habitants of humans, a dog in Argentina rescued a newborn baby abandoned in the ghettos/favelas. The dog was a new mother herself, and after the dog’s owner discovered the baby cuddled in with the pups, he alerted authorities and the baby’s 14-year-old mother came forward. Unfortunately the media attention is actually freaking the dog out a bit, so leave her alone!

Also, for all you star gazers out there, a Top 10 of ancient astronomy observatories throughout the world (interestingly, the Mayan pyramids made it on there, the Egyptian pyramids did not).

Finally, for all you visual or historical anthropologists, a cool article on the history of the daguerrotype, and links to other articles about cool photographic inventions.