Syndicate content

Archive - Apr 16, 2011

Analysis Indicates Human Speech Arose in Africa

An analysis of language from around the world suggests that human speech originated – just once – in central and southern Africa. Verbal communication then likely spread around the globe, evolving alongside migrating human populations, according to Dr. Quentin Atkinson, reporting in the April 15 issue of Science. The researcher from New Zealand studied the phonemes, or the perceptually distinct units of sound that differentiate words, used in 504 human languages today and found that the dialects containing the most phonemes are spoken in Africa while those with the fewest phonemes are spoken in South America and on tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean. The author notes that this pattern of phoneme usage around the world mirrors the pattern of human genetic diversity, which also declined as humans expanded their range from Africa to colonize other regions. In general, the areas of the globe that were most recently colonized incorporate fewer phonemes into the local languages whereas the areas that have hosted human life for millennia (particularly sub-Saharan Africa) still use the most phonemes. This decline in phoneme usage cannot be explained by demographic shifts or other local factors, and it provides strong evidence for an African origin of modern human languages – as well as parallel mechanisms that slowly shaped both genetic and linguistic diversity among humans. [Science abstract]

Potential New Target for Treatment of Neurofibromatosis Type 2

The proteins that provide cells with a sense of personal space could lead to a therapeutic target for neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), an inherited cancer disorder, according to researchers at The Wistar Institute and collaborating institutions. The findings, which appear in the April 12 issue of the journal Cancer Cell, could have profound implications for NF2 and related cancers, such as mesothelioma. The researchers describe, for the first time, that Merlin, the protein encoded by the NF2 gene interacts with a protein called angiomotin. This connection between Merlin and angiomotin also brings together two important information networks in cells, both of which have been implicated in numerous forms of cancer. It is a connection, the researchers say, between the sensors that detect interactions between cells and the signaling networks that drive cell division. "Angiomotin is required for movement of cells that form new blood vessels, so it is fascinating to see it so closely linked to Merlin, the product of the NF2 gene, loss of which leads to tumor formation," said Dr. Joseph Kissil, senior author of the study and associate professor in the Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis Program of The Wistar Institute Cancer Center. "The discovery opens up a potential new method to treat NF2 by attacking the tumor cells directly and by starvation, a strategy already employed in certain cancer therapies. Drugs like Avastin, for example, target the growing blood vessels," Kissil said, "but what makes angiomotin a tempting target is that it is used by both blood vessels and the growing tumor cells that need the nutrients these blood vessels provide." NF2 is a genetic disorder caused by a mutation in both copies of a person's NF2 gene. It occurs in about one in every 30,000 people, and it is mostly hereditary.