Speech, Genes and Mutants

3 August, 2004 at 09:39 Leave a comment

Have missed the keynotes yet again today but got a summary from James about the primates talk. Well, not a summary but something that said abour primates and how researchers have isolated out the gene for speech. This set me wondering in amazement as to how one can “isolate” genes and map it to functions. There is some word for this area…
On the subject of speech. Some people could find it hard to believe that our speech is genetic. It is not since we just have some genes that have encoded within them the instructions to build organs that can generate noises. The thing we are talking about here is the ability to speak – or rather, the ability to make some comprehensible noises. I do not know how this is unique to humans? Almost every animal can make noises and most of them communicate through auditory signals as well. So, what is it that makes us unique – apart from the ability to generate a wide variety of sounds (read, different languages)? The difference, my dear Watson is in the interpretation and the association of “symbols” to the noise. True, all animals have the ability to make noises but their noises are related to primal instincts like danger, affection, signals etc. but only we as humans can point at a banana or an orange and utter a noise that says so in whatever language we know and want to use at that moment.
Now, speech being genetic is nothing special. But it becomes interesting if we are on the search for a specific gene which has given us the ability to create language – not noises. What happened was that there was a rather remarkable coincidence linking the sudden increase in the brains of our ancestors and the sophistication of our voice-box. The brain-size eventually led to the branching out of humans from the primate tree because of some mutation. So, from the perspective of primates, we are all mutants and an aberration to their species šŸ˜‰ That is the amusing part. The interesting part is that when this happened, some other gene got “flagged” and started creating protiens/tissues that led to the generation of our highly sophisticated voice-box which then “symbiotically” fired our ability to speak by symbolic processing which has been made possible by our larger brains. This makes me wonder if one gene can influence another gene or whether they are master/administrator genes that could make things a bit more deterministic but given the redundancy inherent in nature, one should always give chance a chance. But one unmistakable thing that I have observed time and again in nature is remarkable coincidences.
This leads us to the question of how small a change at the primordial start of life could have triggered a totally different planet earth and totally different species now inhabiting our beautiful planet? Could a little character (C,G,T,A) have made all the difference? It is a scary thought…


Entry filed under: Life-Theories.

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August 2004
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