Health, Lifestyle

Foxp2… the gene that makes us talk

There’s a stereotype that most women talk too much, so men talk less and listen more. However, a protein may cause women to talk more.

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Foxp2 hablar 4Eliurka Milán Morejón

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According to a study recently published by The Journal of Neuroscience, women speak 13,000 more words a day than men because of the high levels of this protein found in the female brain.

It all started when scientists from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, connected the levels of this gene, also know as the “speaking gene”, with the chattier gender.

Foxp2 hablar 3In order to reach this conclusion the experts carried out a series of tests on laboratory rats and on ten children from both sexes, aged 3-5 years old. They discovered higher levels of the Foxp2 gene in female brains and male rodents.

After the investigation, Margaret McCarthy explained that girls have 30% more of the Foxp2 protein than boys in an area of the brain, which is key to language development.

The article suggests that this may be the reason why girls learn to speak earlier, why they have a wider vocabulary and why they use a greater range of sentences than boys of the same age.

Despite the results, Simon Fisher, leader of the team that discovered the Foxp2 gene in 1990’s, warned against drawing big conclusions, as the experiment was not carried-out on a large scale.

Foxp2 hablar 5The speaking gene

The Foxp2 gene was discovered by a group of scientists from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University, lead by Fisher. The gene is just one factor among many others responsible for human speech competence.

Despite all thy hype surrounding its discovery, scientists report that the gene is not concrete evidence of the innate characteristic of language.

Foxp2 hablar 14To begin with, the gene is not exclusive to humans; biologists believe that all vertebrates have it. In past studies, they have found it in the same regions of the brain as in human: the basal ganglia, cerebellum, thalamus and cortex or equivalent regions.

Its name is an abbreviation of Forkhead Box; it is like the “head of a fork”, a DNA segment feature that is present in other genes. Fox is a family of genes classified by the letters A to Q. FoxP2 is, therefore, the second member of subgroup P’s gene family.

Foxp2 hablar 8Types of the gene in human beings and chimpanzees differ because of two amino acids. This reinforces the hypothesis that certain mutations of this gene could have caused the evolution of language. However, there is still a lot of ambiguity surrounding this topic.

So while scientists attempt to find all the answers, be more tolerant the next time you complain that women talk too much. Take into account that they might not be able to avoid it: they are genetically equipped to talk more.

 

(Translated by Emma O’Toole)

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