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How your genome helps you speak
October 12, 2012Our unmatched capacity for language is one of the most intriguing aspects of being human. Scientists are pinpointing genes that contribute, mainly by studying disorders that involve disturbed development of language. In his presidential lecture, Simon Fisher will present an overview of the state-of-the-art in these gene-mapping efforts. Identifying genes related to language opens up new research avenues, by providing unique windows into key neural pathways and processes.
FOXP2: piece of a complex puzzle
Fisher will focus on the gene FOXP2. Over a decade ago, Fisher and his colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford discovered that FOXP2 mutations cause problems mastering sequences of coordinated mouth movements needed for fluent speech, accompanied by expressive and receptive language impairments. The FOXP2 gene, however, should not be viewed as a mythical 'gene for speech', Fisher says, but instead as one piece of a complex puzzle.
Exciting area of research
To investigate the function of FOXP2, researchers work at various different levels, from neuronal models in the laboratory, to studies of human volunteers themselves. Fisher highlights the future of the field, in light of major developments such as whole genome sequencing, and approaches that combine brain imaging with genetics. "Overall, this exciting area of research is building the first bridges between genes, neurons, brains, and spoken language."