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A gene critical for speech

Newly discovered stretch of DNA may have been important in evolution of language

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7:23am, October 23, 2009

HONOLULU — Humans may owe the gift of gab to a newly discovered gene that helps keeps vocal pipes limber.

Researchers discovered the gene, dubbed tospeak, in an Australian family with a speaking disorder. Many of the women in the family have weak, husky voices, while several of their male relatives cannot speak above a whisper, reported Raymond Clarke of the University of New South Wales’ St. George Hospital in Kogarah, Australia, October 21 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. 

Clarke and his colleagues traced the source of the family’s disorder to a region of chromosome 8. Part of the chromosome had been rearranged, causing a break in the tospeak gene. Tospeak probably doesn’t code for a protein, Clarke says. The gene is sprinkled with stop signals and its RNA product doesn’t resemble other RNAs that have specific functions in the cell. But production o
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