London: Researchers have discovered a new gene which they say helps explain how humans evolved from chimpanzees.
The gene, called miR-941, is carried only by humans and it appeared after humans evolved from apes and played a crucial role in human brain development and could shed light on how we learned to use tools and language.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh compared it to 11 other species of mammals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, mice and rats.
This finding, published in Nature Communications, brings us closer to answering one of science’s leading questions: What makes the human body different from other mammals?
A previous study that also analysed the differences between apes and humans found that the evolutionary genetic advantages that help humans live longer than apes also make them more vulnerable to diseases of ageing, including heart disease, cancer, and dementia.
Scientists led by Dr Martin Taylor at the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine showed that miR-941 had an important part in the development of the human brain and can even help explain how we acquire language and learn to use tools.
This new gene is the first known gene to be found in humans and not in apes. According to the team, it appears to have a certain purpose in the human body.
The researchers analysed 11 different species of mammals, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, rats and mice, and then compared them to the human genome in order to look for variations.
The results demonstrated that the miR-941 gene is carried only by humans and that it appeared after humans evolved from apes, anywhere between 6 and 1 million years ago.
The gene is especially operative in 2 parts of the brain in charge of language skills and decision making. The research implies that it may play an important part in the higher brain functions responsible for making humans unique.
Scientists have been aware that the outcome of alterations to genes that exist, or deleting and duplicating genes, is what makes species different from each other.
However, researchers claim this gene came out of junk DNA, and fully functional too. Junk DNA refers to non-coding genetic material.