Scientists recently uncovered the first gene known to contribute to the genesis of human language. Called FOXP2, this transcription factor might help researchers understand the neurodevelopmental process that culminates in one of humankind's most mysterious attributes. After studying the pedigree of a family affected with a rare monogenetic language-impairment disorder, researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, mapped the gene to a locus on chromosome 7 and subsequently identified it (C.S.L. Lal et al., "A forkhead-domain gene is mutated in a severe speech and language disorder," Nature, 413:519-23, Oct. 4, 2001). FOXP2 is mutated in affected family members, who have normal intelligence but demonstrate poor grammatical skills and have difficulty speaking, learning, and comprehending language. Genetics center director Anthony Monaco won't say the group identified the language gene. In fact, he says, the gene probably does not directly contribute to the class of...

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