Origins: A Gene for Speech

Linguists have long been fascinated by a London extended family with a rare hereditary speech disorder. Half the 30 family members have a genetic mutation that makes clear speech impossible. Although normal in other respects, they can't pronounce complex words like hippopotamus and don't use connecting terms like or and if. Researchers isolated the responsible gene last year and dubbed it FOXP2. Now comes tantalizing evidence that FOXP2 may have played a role in the evolution of modern humans.

By comparing DNA from humans, chimpanzees and other animals, researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of...

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