Anyone who's watched any of the "Planet of the Apes" movies might wonder why apes or chimps (at least the ones we live with now) lack the ability to speak. It turns out that 500,000 years ago, a gene called FoxP2 mutated in humans and scientists think this was the key to giving us our ability to speak.
FoxP2 exists in chimps and humans. A 2009 study in Nature showed that the human and chimp version of these genes look and function extremely differently. Genealogy studies show that humans began to speak around the time our FoxP2 gene mutated.
To understand the effect this mutation had on our ability to process language, scientists genetically engineered mice to have the same mutation in their FoxP2 that humans had all those years ago. These genetically engineered mice were able to run a maze much more quickly than normal mice - suggesting that they developed the ability to turn mindful actions into behavioral routines - a necessary step in the development of language in humans.
So ... if scientists were able to recreate this mutation in chimps, would the be able to speak? Maybe. Are there any animals you could talk to? Let us know in the comment section of course!
Humanized FoxP2 Accelerates Learning by Enhancing Transitions from Declarative to Procedural Performance (via National Academy of Sciences)
"The human form of forkhead box P2 (FOXP2) is the leading genetic candidate for human speech and language proficiency."
Why Can't Chimps Speak? Study Links Evolution of Single Gene to Human Capacity for Language (via UCLA)
"If humans are genetically related to chimps, why did our brains develop the innate ability for language and speech while theirs did not?"
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