Biotech Updates

Fruit Flies Reveal Gene Responsible for Human Communication

July 9, 2014

University of Missouri researchers discovered a gene in fruit flies important in studying the origin of language in humans. In 2007, the researchers discovered that a gene in the fruit fly genome is very similar to the human version of Forkhead Bo P (FoxP) gene and in their latest study they found that the gene is a major player in operant learning.

The team found that flies with a compromised FoxP gene failed in the task, while flies with the uncompromised gene did well and learned their movements. This learning deficit is conceptually similar to human patients with FoxP mutations, where communication is altered. Succeeding tests revealed a change in the structural makeup of the flies' brains indicating that operant learning depends on the function of this gene to develop normally.

According to the authors of the study, their findings imply that one of the roots of language can be placed 500 million years ago to an ancestor who had evolved the ability to learn by trial and error. "Identification of this characteristic in flies provides a starting point in understanding the genes involved in trial-and-error-based learning and communication across species," said Troy Zars, one of the authors. "These findings should help in understanding how genetic bases of communication deficits arise in humans."