The molecular base of human speech evolution
Language is the core of human culture. Although language is not encoded in the genes, the ability to learn language is encoded in the genes. Work by the Enard group has shown that a transcription factor named FOXP2 plays a specific role. Compared to our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, this gene carries specific mutations that are linked with differences in brain plasticity. When a humanised version of this gene is implanted into mice, these mice acquire the ability to handle so called procedural learning much better than normal mice. Is this the key for understanding the evolution of human culture?
After studying biology in Munich, Wolfgang Enard moved to the Max-Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, where he worked on microtubule motors in the plant pathogenic fungus Ustilago maydis. He then switched the system from fungi to higher primates and completed his Ph.D. at the Max-Planck Institute for Anthropology in Leipzig in 2003, and continued as postdoc and group leader till he accepted in 2013 a call to the chair of Anthropology in Munich.