Researchers from The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics have designed a strategy for testing evolutionary adaptation (i.e. which genes are more likely to be passed on) and employed the strategy to identify genetic alterations affiliated with speech and language disorders. The study focused on the FOXP2 genetic region, which is known to affect speech and language, and aimed to understand the variants of FOXP2 genes that are being positively selected. The researchers remarked confidently regarding the outcome of the test, which found FOXP2 selection prominent among Europeans. More significantly, the strand of FOXP2-regulated genes that is being selected in Europeans is crucial for neurological development, cell reproduction, and immunity. The discrepancy in gene selection between Europeans and the Asian and African populations in the study could be attributed to long-term adaptation to the regions environment or exposure to pathogens. However, all the populations in the study showed evidence of propagating two genes associated with neurodevelopment disorders, such as autism, CNTNAP2 and RBFOX1. The evidence of a relationship between neurodevelopmental disorders and particular genes, in conjunction with the trends of genetic adaptation favoring these genes, provides grounds for further study of this gene selection, which could lead to prevention. Senior researcher Dr. Chris Tyler-Smith comments on the study’s contribution saying, “Our method is opening doors to understanding how modern humans have genetically adapted to their local environments and finding candidate genes to study biological function.” [i]These research findings link the parallel efforts of identifying cause in either nature or nurture, suggesting that the genes associated with developmental disorders are being positively selected because of our environment (whether that be contemporary toxins like chemicals and pollutants, or developing strands of viruses and bacteria).
[i] Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. “Evolving Genes.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 22 Apr. 2013. Web.
22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/259359.php>