Developing the SRGAP2, a new generation of human intelligence

Updated 06:07 PM May 04, 2012

WASHINGTON – Scientists have identified the gene which may have driven the crucial step in evolution where man learned to talk.
By duplicating itself two and a half million years ago the gene could have given early human brains the power of speech and invention, leaving cousins such as chimpanzees behind.
The gene, known as SRGAP2, helps control the development of the neocortex – the part of the brain responsible for higher functions like language and conscious thought.
The duplicated gene helped our brain cells move faster and make more connections enabling the brain to grow bigger and more complex, according to researchers.
In a study published in the Cell journal, the scientists reported that the gene duplicated about 3.5 million years ago to create a “daughter” gene, and again a million years later creating a “granddaughter” copy.
Although humans and chimpanzees separated six million years ago, we still share 96 per cent of our genome and the gene is one of only about 30 which have copied themselves since that time, reported The Daily Telegraph.
The first duplication was relatively inactive but the second occurred at about the time when primitive Homo Sapiens separated from its brother Australopithecus species and began developing more sophisticated tools and behaviours.
The scientists suggest the duplication process explains how our species developed speech, complex behaviour and mastery of tools around that time.
The copy and the original gene make similar proteins, which are known to help the brain develop.
However, as the scientists found over two studies, the second version made neurons develop longer dendrites, the ‘fingers’ that pick up electrical impulses from other cells, said The Daily Mail.
Genetic scientist Evan Eichler at the University of Washington, who led the research, said the benefit of the duplication would have been instant, meaning human ancestors could have distanced themselves from rival species within a generation reported The Daily Telegraph.
Prof Eichler said: “This innovation could not have happened without that incomplete duplication. Our data suggest a mechanism where incomplete duplication of this gene created a novel function ‘at birth’.”AGENCIES

Author: Gilbert Tan TS

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