15 November 2012

Humans and Apes: What a Difference a Gene Makes

It seems like miR-941 came around after humans evolved from apes and at just the right moment to give humans a real edge over other mammals, some time between six and one million years ago. This was when we as a species were really out there making strides like the genetic champions we are. _geekosystem
University of Edinburgh researchers have identified a gene that is carried only by humans, and may have assisted humanity's ascent into the realm of language, global civilisation, and terminal angst. Their findings were published in Nature Communications.
The gene, called miR-941, is carried only by humans and it appeared after humans evolved from apes and played a crucial role in human brain development and could shed light on how we learned to use tools and language...

...Scientists led by Dr Martin Taylor at the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine showed that miR-941 had an important part in the development of the human brain and can even help explain how we acquire language and learn to use tools.

This new gene is the first known gene to be found in humans and not in apes. According to the team, it appears to have a certain purpose in the human body.

The researchers analysed 11 different species of mammals, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, rats and mice, and then compared them to the human genome in order to look for variations. _From Apes to Men
Interestingly, miR-941 is thought to have arisen out of non-coding DNA -- or "junk DNA." If so, a lot of proud people will need to downgrade their family lineages in the light of these findings.
It is known that most differences between species occur as a result of changes to existing genes, or the duplication and deletion of genes. But scientists say this gene emerged fully functional out of non-coding genetic material, previously termed "junk DNA", in a startlingly brief interval of evolutionary time. Until now, it has been remarkably difficult to see this process in action. _MXP
The flood of new information in genetics is overwhelming the old theories. Smarter humans are desperately needed. Perhaps another new gene may emerge "fully functional" out of the junk DNA, to give us a boost?

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10 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

"Smarter humans are desperately needed."

Why, by whom and for what beneficial purpose, exactly?

Thursday, 15 November, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

For better blog comments, perhaps, what?

Thursday, 15 November, 2012  
Blogger Lime Lite said...

Unknown sounds like a liberal. The common sense gene is sadly lacking in them. Now, if we could figure out how to implant liberals with that gene there may be hope for mankind!

Thursday, 15 November, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

@Al Fin

Evolution is an observation not a precription, so why exactly are smarter humans "needed"? Desired perhaps, but needed?

My comment above was a question, not an opposing statement, which you'd have realised if you'd reflected on it for more than a few milliseconds. There's a lot more to the question "why are smarter humans needed?" than surface dwellers like empiricists might suppose. If you want more than just panderers to comment then stop mocking challenges to your assertions.

I challenge your assertion that "smarter humans are needed". If you state your assumptions then explain your reasoning this blog might attract more pithy comments.

@Lime Lite

How exactly is challenging an author's assertions "liberal"?

Friday, 16 November, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

My response was a joke, given in good humour, which you'd have realised if you'd reflected on it for more than a few milliseconds.

Why all this defensiveness, Unknown? Please, let us discuss these things like intelligent people, rather than attempting to divert the energy of the conservation to fruitless verbal jousting.

If the modern world were a veritable utopia -- full of abundant prosperity, health, happiness, an honest pursuit of knowledge, peacefulness, harmony, and long life -- there would be no need for better people.

But as we look around us, we discover that for most humans on Earth, human life continues to be nasty, brutish, and short. We may look at the aftermath of large natural disasters within a "civilised" country, and notice how abruptly conditions deteriorate to the more brutish existence when a few modern supports are withdrawn.

A number of revolutionary and transformative discoveries lie just beyond the grasp of humans. Limitations on human mental bandwidth and ability to deal with complexity make these discoveries more difficult than they should be.

Why? Because only a few humans are intelligent and simultaneously emotionally balanced (executive function) enough to pursue these problems efficaciously. There are too many important problems in comparison to the number of humans suited to deal with them.

This mismatch worsens as current demographic trends continue.

When a person asserts a "need," he is necessarily expressing an opinion, all attempts at "objectivity" aside. All opinions are at least partially erroneous, and often wholly erroneous. As we commonly say here only half in jest: "Everything you think you know, just ain't so."

At the same time, a wholesale denial of an intelligent assertion is also virtually certain to be at least partially wrong, if not entirely wrong.

The most productive approach to comments is to take a constructive approach. If one does not want to be the much abused "straight man" of a lopsided comedy team, that is.




Friday, 16 November, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

"Why all this defensiveness, Unknown? Please, let us discuss these things like intelligent people, rather than attempting to divert the energy of the conservation to fruitless verbal jousting."

No defensiveness or jousting on my part. I asked an honest and intelligent question to invite discussion - it was you that chose to mock. The deflection of responsibility in your second comment is disingenuous. Own your shit, now let's move on.

To address a few points in your more fruitful response:

"If the modern world were a veritable utopia -- full of abundant prosperity, health, happiness, an honest pursuit of knowledge, peacefulness, harmony, and long life -- there would be no need for better people."

Firstly, my challenge is to the assertion that "smarter" people are needed. I don't challenge the notion that "better" people are needed.

Secondly, "utopia" is an imaginary notion full of infinitives, which by definition can never be attained, so there cannot be any "need" associated with this, only imagination and desire. I don't challenge the truth of man's desire or his imagination, only his assertions about what mankind "needs".

"But as we look around us, we discover that for most humans on Earth, human life continues to be nasty, brutish, and short. We may look at the aftermath of large natural disasters within a "civilised" country, and notice how abruptly conditions deteriorate to the more brutish existence when a few modern supports are withdrawn."

This "discovery" is not a discovery at all, it's a decision to ignore everything except empirical observations that support a pre-held position. There are many important variables in your chosen scenario that have not been mentioned, such as charity, hope, faith, justice, grace, honour, kindness, mercy. All of these also emerge in humanity in the aftermath of disaster and are ultimately triumphant over those other things you've mentioned. Granted, these 'good' traits are rare but most human beings hold them above the 'bad'. This actually comes to the point of my challenge: Why does the empiricist ignore observable reality and reduce evidence of God to nothing because there's no scientific way to measure it, and assert instead that there's some undiscovered and elusive physical substance behind human perfection that only greater brain smarts can find? Why not cut to the chase and call that perfect and elusive substance God and be done with it?

"A number of revolutionary and transformative discoveries lie just beyond the grasp of humans."

This is an oxymoron. Things that are just beyond the grasp of humans are um...beyond our grasp. Being another species that's smarter than human might help, but being smarter humans will not.

"Limitations on human mental bandwidth and ability to deal with complexity make these discoveries more difficult than they should be."

How difficult "should" they be? Just beyond the grasp of humans, perhaps. That would make the assertion that smarter humans are needed both self-supporting and self-negating at the same time.

"Because only a few humans are intelligent and simultaneously emotionally balanced (executive function) enough to pursue these problems efficaciously. There are too many important problems in comparison to the number of humans suited to deal with them.

Who and what defines these humans as emotionally balanced or unbalanced, or the "problems" as important or unimportant? This requires an authority beyond human experience. Without it, every emotion and limitation we ourselves possess that the general populace doesn't could easily be termed an "important problem" humanity needs to deal with. Is this scientific, Orwellian, Darwinist, or something else? Hard to tell. It is funny, however.

Friday, 16 November, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Unknown: What is it that you are actually trying to say?

The answer to your opening question is located in thousands of postings on this very blog and its sister blogs. That is why I was at a loss to provide a straightforward answer to it. I could not very well re-post thousands of articles. No, your question was far too close to disingenuous, in the face of the past history of this blog. It is impossible to answer briefly in comments, and so did not deserve a straight answer.

So what are you actually trying to say? Your circumlocutory comments are more in the manner of one enjoying the reflection of his own words, rather than actual communication.

If you could, without personal abuse, make your point clearly and succinctly, I am certain that no one would think the less of you.

Friday, 16 November, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

A note to casual Al Fin readers:

A large part of this blog has from its outset been devoted to the idea of helping humans become smarter. But in addition to greater intelligence, additional emphasis has been placed upon developing greater wisdom and a higher purpose than one typically finds in a highly distracted and superficial modern society.

But in the case of this particular article, this string of comments may be based upon a simple misapprehension. Read the final paragraph of the posting again:

The flood of new information in genetics is overwhelming the old theories. Smarter humans are desperately needed. Perhaps another new gene may emerge "fully functional" out of the junk DNA, to give us a boost?

It is reasonably clear -- particularly in the light of earlier postings on exactly the same topic -- that the phrase "smarter humans are desperately needed" refers to the need to integrate "the flood of new information in genetics" into existing theoretical understanding. And of course the need is to be able to devise even better and more comprehensive theories which will allow a wiser approach to genetic design in the future.

It is fine to challenge a blogger in comments. It is even better to prove a blogger wrong, clearly, logically, and courteously.

But ambiguous comments that are based upon a misunderstanding of what is written, are just as likely to treated as material for jest.

Try to keep comments reasonably brief, to the point, and specific to the article at hand.

Saturday, 17 November, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Please keep comments brief, to the point, specific to the article at hand . . . . and civil. Do not shite on your hosts carpet. There's a good lad.

Saturday, 17 November, 2012  
Blogger Oleg said...

Why nobody care that the apes all have 24 pairs, and humans having 23 pairs of chromosomes? Humans evolved from apes? By loosing one chromosome? Or by fusion two of them to one? It cannot be accidental. Genes manipulations by some Super Intelligence? I rather would believe in it. Anyway, the intellect is not stable and we are witnessing continuous decline in IQ. In time there will be no intelligent humans but ape-like creatures.

Saturday, 24 November, 2012  

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