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Humanity Gene Found? 231

Posted by Zonk
from the we-win-evolution dept.
Banana_Republican writes "Nature is reporting that that multiple copies of a mystery gene may be what makes us human. It appears that humans have multiple carbon copies of a recently discovered gene that other primates lack. In particular, one sequence not so romantically or emotionally termed 'DUF1220' was mentioned . Humans carry 212 copies of DUF1220, whereas chimps have 37 copies, and monkeys have only 30 copies. Apparently the current thinking is that this gene is responsible for coding important areas of brain function."
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Humanity Gene Found?

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  • Duh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by john83 (923470)
    Apparently the current thinking is that this gene is responsible for coding important areas of brain function.

    Fantastic. Unfortunately, that seems to come from the same school of thought as my suggestion here: this gene is responsible for male pattern balding and fully erect bipedal motion.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Kesch (943326)
      Hee hee! He said erect. *snicker*

      This post brought to you by Humans, the only organism known to make childish penis jokes. (Some Slashdotters belive DUF may be involved.)
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I sometimes have problems with bipedal motion when I'm fully erect.
  • Homer simpson anyone?
  • by HaeMaker (221642)
    Homer must be saying, "Told you so. We are not human without DUF".
  • How many copies of this gene did the fire-by-email Radio Shack managers have?
  • by mpoulton (689851) on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:17PM (#16026534)
    "My honor student has more copies of the DUF 1220 gene than yours!" and "Got DUF1220?"
  • by coolgeek (140561) on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:17PM (#16026536) Homepage
    "Good news everyone"
  • Boy, is my face red. All this time I've been using tails and fur to distinguish between humans and other primates, when DUF1220 was the key.
    • In your defense, they're quite hard to tell apart once you've had a few Duffs. What look like slightly unshaven legs and sloping posture the night before reveal themselves fully in the morning after.
  • by Baldrson (78598) * on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:18PM (#16026547) Homepage Journal
    Although there are some critical genes for expression of human characters, one of the characteristics of rapid evolution seems to be the inactivation of genes. As you progress along the line to humans there appear to be fewer and fewer genes being expressed. This seems to be the result of mutation's default action which is to damage gene function which in general means to deactivate it. Its a lot easier to deactivate a gene than it is to create a gene with positive action. So you can expect that if there are ways to create positive characters at the phenotype level by deactivating genes that would be main way those characters emerge during the early stage of evolution. It is probably also be that some older genes need to be silenced to so that newer genes that actually do function can express less competition.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by andyr (78903)
      I heard that cancer was the oldest disease, and the careful countdown of cell generations from stem cells [wikipedia.org] was precisely to keep the wart on the frogs bum from taking over the frog. Once you have licked cancer, the rest becomes manageable.
  • by lems1 (163074) on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:21PM (#16026575) Homepage
    Ok, this was going to be my new name in Slashdot but some bastard already registered it!
  • by mendaliv (898932)
    If this has any truth, we'll probably soon hear that the protein made by this gene is found primarily, or in high quantities, in areas important to language production like Broca's area or Wernicke's area.
    • by linguizic (806996) *
      Or in any of the areas of the human brain that are hypertrophic homologues of chimp brains. In english: any of the areas that look like they are outgrowths of similar regions in chimp brains.
  • by gsn (989808) on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:28PM (#16026625)
    In other news the more midi-chlorians in your blood, the greater the person's Force ability

    TFA says that there is a gene that humans have more copies of than primates and that this gene makes a protein in the brain. They don't know what the protein does in the brain indeed they have no idea what having multiple copies of the gene does. Yet they reach the conclusion that this gene may be responsible for giving us our humanity.

    All they seem to have is a weak correlation between the number of this gene and intelligence (which is arguable - I know some really dumb people) and as we've all learnt many times "Correlation does not imply causation."

    IANAGS but I'd wait until there was some more evidence on offer.
    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:41PM (#16026737) Homepage Journal
      All they seem to have is a weak correlation between the number of this gene and intelligence (which is arguable - I know some really dumb people) and as we've all learnt many times "Correlation does not imply causation."

      If you RTFA (I know, I know, this is /. and that's against the rules or something) you'll see that the researchers are not claiming anything except "we found this gene, humans have a lot more copies of it than monkeys, and we think that might be important." Anything else is reporter's and/or story submitter's hype.

      But there are a couple of other notes I'd like to make in response to your post, which are really responses to lots of posts of this nature. First, this is not a weak correlation; 212 vs. 37 vs. 1 is a significant difference in almost any context, and yes, we've all known some really dumb people, but unless those people are severely retarded, they're still a hell of a lot smarter than the smartest chimp or monkey. Second, I really wish people would stop invoking "correlation does not imply causation" as a mantra. Yes, it's true, but it's also true that correlation implies correlation -- by which I mean that if there is a statistically significant correlation between two variables, then it is entirely reasonable to assume that there exists some connection between them, and to use this assumption as, at the very least, a basis for further investigation.

      I think people are so used to misinterpretations of correlation (almost never by scientists, BTW) that they forget that it is still a powerful and useful tool. Actually, this is true of statistics in general. Yes, it's very easy to lie with statistics; it is somewhat harder, but entirely possible and fairly common, to use them to discover great truths.
      • by lubricated (49106)
        This is two datapoints. The evidence for correlation is not strong.

        Two datapoints are not statistically significant, for correlation.
        Yeah, they found a gene that is alot more common in humans than monkeys. There are probably other such genes appearing by chance. They just happened to find one. They can use it as the basis for more study. Though there aren't many conclusions that can yet be drawn.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by gsn (989808)
        No it isn't two data points - I have the article.Magdalena C. Popesco et. al. Human Lineage-Specific Amplification, Selection, and Neuronal Expression of DUF1220 Domains. Science 1 September 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5791, pp. 1304 - 1307
        I'd love to get a an opinion from a someone who works in genetics.

        They do claim that taken together the data from three seperate methods (BLAT http://genome.ucsc.edu/cgi-bin/hgBlat [ucsc.edu], aCGH and QPCR - I know what PCR is and I'm reading up on the others but this is not my field) they
      • by geobeck (924637)

        ...correlation implies correlation...

        I think you mean "coincidence implies correlation." In other words, if two factors occur in the same place or time, it implies that they might be related somehow, even if there is no causal relationship between them. It's just as likely that the causative factor is something as yet unknown that causes both factors.

      • The problem is that in this case the correlation could have a thoroughly uninteresting casuality. For all we know this could a gene that makes you like bananas. And there really isn't a solid basis for saying this is a significant correlation. If you were to look at all of the non-intelligence-related biochemical processes taking place in mice, chimps and humans, and rate them by how much activity is taking place, any number of these could be correlated with this gene. I give a potential example in another
      • I really wish people would stop invoking "correlation does not imply causation" as a mantra.

        Me too. What this sentence "correlation does not imply causation" really means is that we may not be really sure of which is cause and which is effect.

        In this particular cause, the direction from cause to effect is *VERY* clear to me: the presence of genes is the cause of whatever effect we are observing. If we have a characteristic, being human, correlated with the presence of one particular gene, I consider it abs

    • And how long until we genetically engineer a monkey with, say, 200 copies of this gene?

      Uplift, here we come. [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by AxemRed (755470)
      There's only one thing we can do... We have to genetically engineer a child with about 800 copies and see what happens. Only then will we know the truth.
  • by Evro (18923) <evandhoffmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:32PM (#16026651) Homepage Journal
    RIAA and MPAA members found lacking new gene...
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:34PM (#16026671) Journal
    ...to HIV. Chimps have more of them than humans. It seems likely that SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) has existed in chimps much longer than HIV in humans. As a result, Chimps with more copies of the gene have outlived their less well endowed relatives and now almost all chimps can coexist with SIV without showing symptoms of immunodeficiency. Apparently humans have started making similar adaptations and in some areas of the world there is now a generation of humans who seem to do a fairly good job of coexisting with HIV. But all humans still have many fewer of these genes than chimps.

    But nobody would make the mistake of saying that this gene is the gene for 'chimpness'. It's just an accident of history that SIV arose before HIV.

    I learned all of this from an excellent podcast [royalsoc.ac.uk] whose name I dare not write for fear of offence...

    • by geekoid (135745)
      ummm...no

      There is a tiny group in europe that has a mutation of a cell recptor the makes them getting HIV/AIDS more difficult.

      Since it kills people after the time they can have had children, the people who are not naturally immune(if there are any) will still have their genes passed on. Basically the virus lives too long.

      It's one of the MANY many unique issus that makes this virus very tough to fight.
      • There is a tiny group in europe that has a mutation of a cell recptor the makes them getting HIV/AIDS more difficult.

        I don't think this can be the same thing as what Steve Jones [wikipedia.org] was discussing in the podcast [royalsoc.ac.uk]. He was specifically interested in discussing the coevolution of humans and HIV and he gave the impression that the group of resistant humans wasn't all that small. It's a great podcast BTW.

      • by evilviper (135110)

        Since it kills people after the time they can have had children, the people who are not naturally immune(if there are any) will still have their genes passed on. Basically the virus lives too long.

        An HIV-infected person can still breed, but they will die shortly thereafter. The person they breed with will have a much increased chance of catching and dying of the disease just a few years later.

        Their children will have a good chance of catching the disease, and almost certainly dying long before they can repr

    • It's just an accident of history that SIV arose before HIV.

      Perhaps HIV was created using SIV, thus arising later,
    • by bar-agent (698856)
      There was an article in Discover magazine (http://www.discover.com/issues/sep-06/rd/uniqued i seases/) that discusses this.

      Basically the theory goes that, at one point, humans were getting their asses kicked by a plague of some kind. Some of us had a mutation where genes that rein in the immune system were knocked out. With their immune system turned up to 11, these guys survived the plague.

      The downside is that our immune systems are now turned up to 11, hence all the immune system diseases like HIV and asth
      • That sounds different again from the story I was discussing. Nonetheless, it's interesting stuff and it's a great example of how a gene can be human-specific while having little to do with 'humanity'.
  • by Luxifer (725957) <geek4hireNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:35PM (#16026677)
    from paragraph 2 of TFA:
    "Scientists don't know what the gene does."
        No, they know what the gene does, it codes for a protein. They don't know what this protein does.
        Then they say that the protein is expressed all over, including the brain, so that means it may be involved in brain function.
    For all they know it could be a structural protein, which is a better bet if it's expressed outside the brain.
        Somehow I doubt that a single gene is responsible for humanity.

        I try to be positive when I post, but what kind of morons do they have writing this stuff? And this is Nature magazine? How about some info on what sort of protein it is: Kinase? Carboxylase? Protease? How about some info on the expression levels instead of how many copies there are? There could be 1000 copies in our genome, but if the expression is low, it doesn't matter.
        Guess I'll have to RTFP, where P=Paper.

  • Great.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by TrebleJunkie (208060) <<ten.bbcitnalta> <ta> <karuhaze>> on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:36PM (#16026693) Homepage Journal
    ...now somebody's going to shove this thing a couple hundred times into a monkey, and it'll be fucking Planet of the Apes for real.
  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:39PM (#16026714) Journal
    If DUF makes us smart, FUD must make us stupid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Yes, in a second announcement later in the day, the "inhumanity gene", FUD9999 was discovered.

      It took longer to recognize as it was so much more prevalent than the DUF1220 gene.

      Apparently, the function of the FUD9999 gene is to convert the proteins that DUF1220 encodes into a complex mixture of steroids and alcohol.
  • Unfortunately, future candidates for political office will be tested for this gene. Those bearing it will be disqualified from running.
    • I think market forces have accomplished this far more effectively than government regulation could.
  • The important thing is, now that we've found the gene, will be able able to find a cure?
  • by StefanJ (88986) on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:51PM (#16026806) Homepage Journal
    Three-toed sloths are an obvious first candidate to become earth's second sapient species.

    They can be put to work installing Wi-Fi nodes and spy cameras on telephone poles.

    And if they decide to rebel against their human creators, it will be really easy to outrun them.
  • which was puzzling at first, because it's literally flipped around from the chimp gene, and actually is similar to a dog segment. Turns out a lot of what we thought were different gene segments folded wrong and literally reassembled upside down (backwards).

    However, just remember that just because we may have found a segment doesn't mean we understand how it works. Sometimes, it's not just the genes it encodes, it's how it impacts other genes on other chromosomes, and how it misfolds or affects transcripti
  • by hcob$ (766699) on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:56PM (#16026844)
    CAN'T YOU ALL SEE??? This is the work of his noodly appendage! We should all marvel at this(and his) wonderous and miraculus feat(and feet)! Anyone saying otherise is just speaking blasphemy!!!
  • by dorath (939402) on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:59PM (#16026863)
    I sent a link of the Slashdot article to my brother, with the requisite Duff joke. He responded by saying that DUF1220 is more common in rabbits, elephants, and some other stuff than it is in humans.

    I for one welcome our new armadillo overlords.

    http://genome.ucsc.edu/cgi-bin/hgTracks?hgsid=7703 1393&hgt.out2=+3x+&position=chr1%3A142191957-14219 9015 [ucsc.edu]
  • Good to know that I'm almost as smart as a monkey.
  • Poor humans are still trying to confirm that they are the pinnacle of the universe.

    From believing they are in the center of god's creation, they have slowly, as their knowledge increased lost again and again. First they discovered that the earth was not the center of the universe, then that the sun was just a mediocre star in an average neighborhood in an average galaxy. Darwin taught them that they are just another leaf on the tree of life.

    Now they are still clinging to the hope that their brains are so
  • by XLawyer (68496) * on Friday September 01, 2006 @05:04PM (#16026906) Homepage
    "Perhaps most revealingly, transgenic mice with this gene incorporated into their genomes have been found to habitually scratch patterns on the floors of their cages that strongly resemble engineering blueprints for a flamethrower."
    • by CptNerd (455084)
      "Perhaps most revealingly, transgenic mice with this gene incorporated into their genomes have been found to habitually scratch patterns on the floors of their cages that strongly resemble engineering blueprints for a flamethrower."
      Are they named "Pinky" and sound like Orson Welles?
  • Because, if God was such a bad programmer he had to encode it 220 times, instead of making an efficient coding paradigm that used only say three segments for backup ... well ...

    Or does it mean chimps run Linux and only need 22 code segments to do what Humans (Windows) needs 220 code segments to get done?
  • The natural follow-up study: Who has more DUF1220 on average, men or women?
    • by Tyger (126248)
      Unless it is encoded in the X or Y chromosome... Neither. If it appears in the Y chromosome, then men will, but only by a small bit, as the Y chromosome doesn't really encode much information anymore. If it's in the X chromosome, women will have more, but from my understanding it doesn't make a difference because one of the two Y chromosomes would not be active anyway. However, from a link someone else posted to the human genome project, it looks like it is not in the X or Y chromosomes.

  • He has only ten copies.

    The caption on the picture in the article says, "What makes humans, primates, unique?"

    Who says they're unique?

  • Can it be spliced into Dick Cheney with a retro-virus?
  • by g1zmo (315166) on Friday September 01, 2006 @05:34PM (#16027104) Homepage

    Humans carry 212 copies of DUF1220, whereas chimps have 37 copies, and monkeys have only 30 copies.

    Corporate CEOs carry between 3-6 copies of the gene, and no one has yet to find a middle management specimen exhibiting even a single instance.

    In addition, a representative sample of Slashdot readers was tested and there was a remarkably strong correlation between their karma level and copies of the gene. Digg readers came in slightly above MySpace users with 10 and 4 copies, respectively. 8^)

  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday September 01, 2006 @05:48PM (#16027168) Homepage
    (do I really need to put anything else in here for that to be funny?)
  • ... a GUESS.

    And this is peer review? How many copies of this do their peers have?
  • by johansalk (818687)
    This whole genes talk is too common now to notice, but when you step back, and think about it, it really, really boggles the mind. All these creatures came from these little tiny strings playing with each other.
  • "It appears that humans have multiple carbon copies of a recently discovered gene that other primates lack. In particular, one sequence not so romantically or emotionally termed 'DUF1220' was mentioned . Humans carry 212 copies of DUF1220, whereas chimps have 37 copies, and monkeys have only 30 copies."

    So chimps have 37 copies, monkeys have 30. Apparently... these animals are not primates. Because the claim is that other primates lack this gene.
    If they ARE primates AND have copies of this gene... then... ma
  • by dokebi (624663) on Friday September 01, 2006 @06:47PM (#16027460)
    The Abstract of paper:

    Extreme gene duplication is a major source of evolutionary novelty. A genome-wide survey of gene copy number variation among human and great ape lineages revealed that the most striking human lineage-specific amplification was due to an unknown gene, MGC8902, which is predicted to encode multiple copies of a protein domain of unknown function (DUF1220). Sequences encoding these domains are virtually all primate-specific, show signs of positive selection, and are increasingly amplified generally as a function of a species' evolutionary proximity to humans, where the greatest number of copies (212) is found. DUF1220 domains are highly expressed in brain regions associated with higher cognitive function, and in brain show neuron-specific expression preferentially in cell bodies and dendrites.
  • Blah.. who cares.. we can't get to work weeding out the morons until we find genese of substance whose carriers we need to exterminate. first target... the gene which causes idiots to pull to a stop and gawk at accidents on highways with a 40mph min speed limit.
  • Given researchers' habit of experimenting on mice, is it only a matter of time before this gene is inserted into 2 baby mice, and one asks the other, "What we gonna do tonight Brain?" If so, we might not like the other's answer.
  • by mrpeebles (853978) on Saturday September 02, 2006 @12:33AM (#16028561)
    There is more to being human than genes and flesh. A baby is raised without human contact may grow up to be a human being, but certainly not a functional human being. And homo sapiens existed for tens, or hundreds, of thousands of years before acquiring religion, language, art, etc., aspects of civilization we consider important parts of our humanity. Isn't the most we could ever find a gene that allows us to be human? To make an analogy, ink allowed the original manuscript of Hamlet to be Hamlet, but it's not a Hamlet material. It doesn't contain the essence of Hamlet-ness in any meaningful sense.

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