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Human Speech Genes Mimicked in Mice

In a study in the journal Cell, researchers "humanized" a mouse gene--the human counterpart of which is thought to be related to speech--and the mice vocalized differently. Steve Mirsky reports, with additional commentary by The Brain

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

[Cartoon audio clip] “We interrupt your regular broadcast to bring you this important news bulletin.”

Humans can talk. Chimps can’t.

“Your scientific jargon staggers me, Pinky.”

In recent years scientists have learned that mutations in a gene called FOXP2 seem to be crucial for human speech. Of course, it’s much, much easier to work with mice than either chimps or people. So researchers introduced genetic changes into the mouse FOXP2.

“You will be forced up the evolutionary ladder.” 

To make it more like ours.

“Causing a mutating effect on your gene pool.”

And mice with the humanized gene show brain circuit changes known to be linked to human speech. Not only that, the genetically altered mouse pups had different ultrasonic vocalizations than did garden variety mice. The research appears in the May 29th issue of the journal Cell.

“If I could talk to animals I wouldn’t waste time with experiments like this.”

The authors wrote that “with this study we get the first glimpse that mice can be used to study not only disease, but also our own history."

“Finished, Pinky.”

--Steve Mirsky

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