Mice Given ‘Human’ Version of Speech Gene

By | May 30, 2009

They may not be the talking mice of cartoons, but real mice carry a “humanized version” of a gene thought to be involved in speech, a new study suggests.

The finding could help shed light on how humans evolved language and speech. Mice are often used to study the causes and effects of human diseases because they share many genetic similarities with us.

“In the last decade or so, we’ve come to realized that the mouse is really similar to humans,” said co-author of the new study, Wolfgang Enard of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthrophology. “The genes are essentially the same and they also work similarly.”

Enard and his colleagues used this genetic similarity to gain insights the evolution of human speech.

“With this study, we get the first glimpse that mice can be used to study not only disease, but also our own history,” Enard said.

… The researchers introduced the human substitutions into the FOXP2 gene of mice, which is essentially identical to that of chimps. The mice with the human FOXP2 gene didn’t start babbling like babies of course, but they showed changes in brain circuits that have previously been linked to human speech. The genetically altered mouse pups also showed differences in ultrasonic vocalizations they use when placed outside the comfort of their mothers’ nests. But not enough is known about mouse communication to read too much into what those changes mean, Enard noted.

via Mice Given ‘Human’ Version of Speech Gene | LiveScience.

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