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Key Role Of Language Gene Identified

Update Date: Sep 16, 2014 03:52 AM EDT

A gene mutation that arose more than half a million years ago, may be the key to our unique ability to produce and understand speech, according to a new study. 

The study showed that the human version of gene called Foxp2 makes it easier to transform new experiences into routine procedures. 

Researchers reported that when they engineered mice to express humanized Foxp2, it learned to run a maze much more quickly than normal mice. 

The findings suggest that Foxp2 may help humans with a key component of learning language-transforming experiences, such as hearing the word "glass" when we are shown a glass of water, into a nearly automatic association of that word with objects that look and function like glasses, said Ann Graybiel, an MIT Institute Professor, member of MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and a senior author of the study, in the press release.

"This really is an important brick in the wall saying that the form of the gene that allowed us to speak may have something to do with a special kind of learning, which takes us from having to make conscious associations in order to act to a nearly automatic-pilot way of acting based on the cues around us," Graybiel added. 

The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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