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Biotech Science

The Human Mutation 339

Posted by kdawson
from the le-gene-juste dept.
eldavojohn writes "Scientists in China have announced finding the gene that makes us human. The article explains that prior work has shown that humans, as compared with the great apes from which we diverged over 5 million years ago, have a longer form of a protein (type II neuropsin) located in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. From the article: 'Gene sequencing revealed a mutation specific to humans that triggers a change in the splicing pattern of the neuropsin gene, creating a new splicing site and a longer protein. Introducing this mutation into chimpanzee DNA resulted in the creation of type II neuropsin. "Hence, the human-specific mutation is not only necessary but also sufficient in creating the novel splice form," the authors state.' The team is urging further analysis of the extra 45 amino acids in type II neuropsin since they believe that chain may cause protein structural and functional changes. The research didn't link anything with this protein, simply identifying it as a very distinct difference between us and our closest cousins."
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The Human Mutation

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  • by PixieDust (971386) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:01PM (#19046379)
    Yes, let's introduce this gene into a bunch of apes.

    I for one, welcome our new english speaking tyrannical ape-like overlords.

    • by Mr. Bad Example (31092) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:12PM (#19046481) Homepage
      > I for one, welcome our new english speaking tyrannical ape-like overlords.

      You're about six years too late for that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by rde (17364)
      Yes, let's introduce this gene into a bunch of apes.
      I for one, welcome our new english speaking tyrannical ape-like overlords.

      And I for one welcome the thoughts on the creationists and other fundies on this one. It's going to be fun.
      "We can't do this!"
      "Why not?"
      "We'll be creating humans! Only God can do that!"
      "So you're saying that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor?"
      "Err..."
      • by networkBoy (774728) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @10:38PM (#19047247) Homepage Journal
        Actually this really worries me.
        What if we produce a subspecies (I think that line is awfully close), are responsible for its care and preventing its extinction?
        Now:
        What if we create a subspecies with limited intellect and self awareness, but capable of simple tasks: dig here, carry this from here to there, turn the red lever sideways, turn the blue lever up and down, etc.
        What now? What rights do they have? do we allow them to work in mines and nuclear plants? are they disposable? or better yet: are humans (homo sapiens) less disposable?
        This worries me no end and has nothing to do with religion.
        -nB
        • by Who235 (959706) <secretagentx9@@@cia...com> on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:13PM (#19047557)

          What if we create a subspecies with limited intellect and self awareness, but capable of simple tasks: dig here, carry this from here to there, turn the red lever sideways, turn the blue lever up and down, etc.
          What now? What rights do they have? do we allow them to work in mines and nuclear plants? are they disposable? or better yet: are humans (homo sapiens) less disposable?
          This worries me no end and has nothing to do with religion.

          You hit the nail on the head, there.

          Can they vote? All men are created equal, right? Even ones we create?

          What if we can reproduce with them? (shudder) Cause if we can, someone will.

          I can only see bad coming out of something like this and really not much potential good.

          • What if we can reproduce with them? (shudder) Cause if we can, someone will.

            I can only see bad coming out of something like this and really not much potential good.


            Well if Monsanto, or any of the other big firms into genetic research produce them, you can be sure that they'll be sterile. They wouldn't want anyone breeding their own after delivery; they'd want you to go back to the source for another fresh batch of clones.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by yndrd1984 (730475)
              Well if Monsanto, or any of the other big firms into genetic research produce them, you can be sure that they'll be sterile.

              If you're talking about the "terminator gene" [wikipedia.org], Monsanto has pledged not to use it.

              They wouldn't want anyone breeding their own after delivery; they'd want you to go back to the source for another fresh batch of clones.

              They might want repeat business? I may die of shock!

          • by kalirion (728907) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @09:55AM (#19051001)
            What if we can reproduce with them? (shudder) Cause if we can, someone will.

            People, people, please remember that when you have sex with an ape, you're also having sex with every ape that ape has ever had sex with!

            -paraphrased from Night Stand
        • by shaitand (626655)
          'What now? What rights do they have? do we allow them to work in mines and nuclear plants? are they disposable? or better yet: are humans (homo sapiens) less disposable?'

          Are humans less disposable? Of course not. Humans are no more or less disposable than the plants in our flower gardens. Life is life, the vegetarians are closer to this realization then most, they just stopped with a comparison to animals. We have a built in evolution mechanism that causes us to relate more closely with things that are gene
        • What if we create a subspecies with limited intellect and self awareness, but capable of simple tasks: dig here, carry this from here to there...
          dogs.
        • Underpeople (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Stephen Ma (163056) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @04:21AM (#19049129)
          The auther Cordwainer Smith had exactly your thought and wrote some stunning stories about the Underpeople (as he called them). See "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell", "The Dead Lady of Clown Town", and "Norstrillia".

          Also see "The Time Machine" by H. G. Wells, and "The Last Castle" by Jack Vance.

        • by Moraelin (679338) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @04:37AM (#19049193) Journal
          If you produce a monkey capable of being commanded to do the most basic tasks, somewhere a million PHBs will replace human workers with it.

          Can it sew shoes? Well, cool. All those jobs were moved to inhuman sweatshops in poorer countries long ago. Imagine the savings if you don't even have to pay those salaries. Just dig some bunker with a thousand monkey cages, and make them sew for 18 hours a day, for the cost of just some water and biomass as food. Ok, they'll probably wear out pretty quickly at that rate, but you can always replace them and use the previous ones as extra protein for the next generation.

          Can it operate a phone and compare simple questions to a canned FAQ? (Not necessarily intelligently or successfully, mind you.) Yay. There go the first level tech support jobs. Let's be honest, it _is_ a cheap monkey job as far as every manager in the organisation sees it. Level 1 is there just to deflect the trivial stuff from reaching the expensive level 2 guys, and occasionally discourage some people from escalating even non-trivial stuff. If you're a qualified nerd in a level 1 job, well, you have my sympathy, so take it as: you don't belong there.

          Ok, so the monkeys probably won't have a larynx capable of human speech, but I'm sure someone will figure out some text-to-speech scheme.

          For that matter, can it operate a keyboard? Well, the drive of the last half a century straight was to buy expensive tools and believe that now even less qualified burger-flippers can write your programs with them. Never mind that that guy is incapable of abstract algorithmic thought and too bored to even learn the language. The nice salesman from IBM/MS/BEA/whatever said that you don't need expensive smart guys any more. Any semi-trained monkey can write great enterprise programs with their tools in 21 days, don't you know? And that nice salesman plays such a nice game of golf, that he's surely trustworthy.

          If that sounds like made-up fiction, sadly, it isn't. I actually know of two departments which hired their programmers by reverse auction. Whoever wants less money gets the job, no further qualifications needed or questions asked. Literally. Needless to say, they ended up with people about as sharp as a bowling ball. In the words of Foghorn Leghorn, "I've seen, AH SAY, I've seen better heads on a mug of beer." Some were just now discovering stuff like that they need to put quotes around a string, and some were having trouble understanding why. One guy had trouble understanding why the variable he declared in the constructor isn't visible in another method. Etc.

          Plus, think of all the other advantages of putting semi-human monkeys in those jobs. For starters, who's gonna force you to pay for overtime or let them unionize? Schedules of 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, here we come. I'm sure some PHB (e.g., at EA) would ejaculate in his pants out of sheer joy at _that_ thought.

          Or imagine the joy on some "your job could be the next to move to India" PHB's face, when he can replace it with the even more demeaning threat of, "remind me why I don't hire one of those new monkeys to do your job?"

          Etc.

          I'm sure there's a fun new economy just waiting to be discovered.
          • Sadly, I agree with you. OTOH, it would sure be nice to replace some of those PHBs with monkeys. That would be a step up in intellegence.
        • What if we create a subspecies with limited intellect and self awareness, but capable of simple tasks: dig here, carry this from here to there, turn the red lever sideways, turn the blue lever up and down, etc.
          What now? What rights do they have? do we allow them to work in mines and nuclear plants? are they disposable? or better yet: are humans (homo sapiens) less disposable?

          In the past human societies may not have had the ability to create subspecies genetically, but they did have the ability to declare entire groups of people as a subspecies and treat them accordingly.

          Women, Slavs, Africans, Native Americans, subjugated peoples of all kinds have at one time or another been declared a human "subspecies" and have been forced under duress to labour without pay or freedom. It's a common thread throughout history one which we think in our enlightenment will "never happen again", but we are really just fooling ourselves.

          If we did manage to create a species that could talk, understand our speech, perform complex chores, (work in nuclear plants!), it would be ridiculous to state that they were entitled to no rights whatsoever. They would clearly be self aware and as intelligent as us. However, people would declare them to be "inferior", and they would become the new slave caste in society. People would justify this with all kinds of pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo, but at the end of the day we'd be no different from the old southern whipmasters going out of their way to justify an unjustifiable act.
          • by CmdrGravy (645153)
            The best bet when we're engineering this new "worker" species is to make them from something other than monkeys, things like slugs or spiders would be ideal. Under no circumstances would we want them to have anything resembling a face.

            The problem with using monkeys is that we can pick up a fair amount of information about how they're feeling from their faces and body language ( being similar to our own ) and that leads us to empathise with them which isn't ideal if the purpose is to treat them like biologic
        • Dude, this is why aliens came here to make us humans.

          This is a 60000 yr training session, now we will make 120,000,000 spaceships for them in 2050. And a whole modern planet built nicely.

          All they have to do is activate the 'do not reproduce gene'
        • by Jasin Natael (14968) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @11:34AM (#19052307)

          No offense, but ... Worry about the superspecies, not the subspecies. What happens when advantageous chimp genes are applied to a human? The chimps have had an extraordinary amount of selective pressure that our intellect has overcome; There's probably something very useful in that grab-bag.

    • by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:57PM (#19046899)
      I for one, welcome our new english speaking tyrannical ape-like overlords.

      You mean the RIAA?
    • by Ucklak (755284)
      As soon as that happens, some super virus will evolve that will kill all our cats and dogs.
    • Why stop at apes. What if we introduced the gene into lots of different species? Like parrots which can already talk? Or cats and dogs, or politicians?
    • The office of the president objects strongly to this post.

      (And heck, I'm not even from America....)

  • Uh oh, (Score:5, Funny)

    by LurkerXXX (667952) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:01PM (#19046381)
    Putting human brain genes in chimps, this is how it all starts. A thousand years from now some astronaut returning to earth is going to be saying "Get your hands off me, you damn dirty ape!"
  • Good job (Score:4, Funny)

    by LBArrettAnderson (655246) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:02PM (#19046393)
    The article explains that prior work has shown that humans, as compared with the great apes from which we diverged over 5 million years ago, have ...

    Now that the prior work is already covered, the AACS can't copyright us.
  • by Ruvim (889012) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:05PM (#19046413)
    You have 6bln more monkeys running around the Earth.
    • by Webs 101 (798265)
      I'm enough of a compulsive pedant to point out that eating this protein will do nothing. Stomach enzymes rip apart most proteins.
  • by amigabill (146897) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:06PM (#19046415)
    Great. Now someone will come up with a retrovirus or something that makes us all as dumb as Bush.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:26PM (#19046623)
      They'll just find that it contains the 09 F9 number when the gene sequence has every two base pairs encoded as one hex digit. Then they'll sue everyone who has sex in the USA for "unauthorized trafficking" per the DMCA.

      The only good side of this is that, for once, Slashdotters will NOT be affected :)
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:07PM (#19046431)
    longer form of a protein

    As long as... a spaghetti noodle, perhaps?
    • by Plutonite (999141)
      Excellent! I will now run off to the heretic Christian boards and show them which god exactly made us in his image. This is scientific proof! They can't deny his noodliness now!
  • by chiph (523845) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:09PM (#19046437)
    ...is that your pets have been already eating it for two months!

    Chip H.
  • by fishthegeek (943099) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:14PM (#19046501) Journal
    1. Scientist suspects that there are differences between humans and apes.
    2. Scientist looks for said difference.
    3. Scientist discovers said difference.
    4. World in awe of Scientists intellectual prowess.
    5. Story makes Slashdot.
    6. Jokes made about overlords and beowulf clusters.
    7. World realizes that there are protein and amino acid differences encoded in our genes
    8. World realizes that world already suspected as much and Scientist fades into obscurity.
    9. "Neuropsin" ends up as most obscure Jeopardy answer EVER

    This is cool and all, but unless we plan on manipulating those genes in Apes and three years later accepting simian dominance of our world I can't see how this impacts anyone but grant writers.
    • by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:42PM (#19046761) Homepage Journal
      One obvious impact would be to look and see if this gene has undergone any further mutations - however trivial - or whether the associated junk DNA has. Of particular interest would be polyglots or other people with exceptional ability in communicating and understanding. Also of interest would be archaeological DNA where the relevant protein has survived. (It's rare for Y chromosomes to survive hundreds or thousands of years, but every so often it happens. Maybe this gene can also survive.)

      I'm assuming here that the mutation is involved in communication, as I know that the wiring in the front of the brain is linked to autism, which impacts the brain's I/O channels, and I/O is a major difference between apes and humans. However, this is an assumption and should be taken as such.

      We know that the ability to filter information has changed over time. Some of that has been changes elsewhere in the brain, but there is no advantage in a brain adapting to process information it hasn't got. Whereas, we already know from tetrachromats and synesthetes that there IS a usable advantage in getting information that would not normally be processed. If this gene is responsible for improving I/O bandwidth, then we should see a series of minor mutations over time that correspond to known I/O improvements within the brain.

      Could this be useful in some other way? Well, provided (a) it is involved in I/O enhancements, and (b) we can understand the relationship between changes within it and those enhancements, it should be possible to induce mutations that can improve the brain further, provided the change did not exceed the brain's ability to adapt.

      • by radtea (464814) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @10:56PM (#19047395)
        I'm assuming here that the mutation is involved in communication...

        Why? I mean, sure, it seems to have a role in the forward part of the brain, but rather a lot of things go on there.

        What you are doing is variously known as "idle speculation" at best and "jumping to conclusions" at worst. Neither serve the ends of science particularly well, although a little bit of idle speculation can be scientifically valuable.

        As usual for /., the headline is false. This gene does not "make us human." It appears to be an important locus in differentiating early hominids from there closest relatives. Only an idiot, a liar, or a journalist would confuse that with "making us human."
    • For the humanity deficient. Compulsory vaccination with Type II Neuropsin enabling virus and the world may be cured of lawyerism in all its forms.

    • by bogjobber (880402) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:20PM (#19047621)
      1. Scientist suspects that there are differences between humans and apes.
      2. Scientist looks for said difference...
      8. World realizes that world already suspected as much and Scientist fades into obscurity.

      9. World's knowledge of the world is slightly improved by Scientist affirming suspected hypothesis and introducing more data to World.

      Not every scientific discovery has to be of the earth-shaking, paradigm-shifting variety.

      • Yes they must, how else do you think we will get the weekly earth-shaking, paradigm shifting scientific article on /.?
    • by shaitand (626655)
      'This is cool and all, but unless we plan on manipulating those genes in Apes and three years later accepting simian dominance of our world I can't see how this impacts anyone but grant writers.'

      It seems that it could be useful for medical research. The more human we can make the apes the closer their responses to various test drugs and procedures are to our own.

    • 9. "Neuropsin" ends up as most obscure Jeopardy answer EVER.

      I'll take "Animal Genitalia, Audio Clues", for $600 Alex.
      [Thank you Colin Mochrie, Who's Line is it Anyway?]

  • by eclectro (227083) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:18PM (#19046539)
    We're all mutants? That can't be good...
  • Typical... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ls -la (937805)
    ... overstatement by the summary.

    They did not actually find the gene which "makes us human," as that would actually be several million genes (1.2% of the human genome). They found a gene which causes apes to produce "neuropsin, a protein that plays a role in learning and memory."

    Tell me if I'm wrong (sources if you can find them) but don't apes already have near the level of learning and memory we have? They have some level of socialization and tool use, which are two of the important ideas that set
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by maxume (22995)
      Humans very likely have tens of thousands of genes(Wikipedia says ~25,000). Perhaps you are thinking of base pairs?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene#Composition_of_t he_genome [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tinrobot (314936)
      IMO, a better breakthrough would be to see if apes have some sort of moral code

      Why? Because humans actually have some sort of moral code? I think most scientific research has proved otherwise.
      • by Pfhorrest (545131)

        IMO, a better breakthrough would be to see if apes have some sort of moral code

        Why? Because humans actually have some sort of moral code? I think most scientific research has proved otherwise.

        I believe the GP was speaking in terms analogous to "see if apes have some sort of language". You don't look for a gene that encodes for some particular conception of morality any more than you look for a gene that codes for speaking French. However, it makes perfect sense to look for a gene coding for moralistic thought (i.e. neurological structures involved in normative reasoning), as much as it make sense to look for a gene coding for language use (i.e. neurological structures involved in the use of lan

      • by asninn (1071320)
        Actually, I don't think so - you're making a mistake when you think that a moral code is automatically something that we'd consider to be "good". Put another way, "care about your own family/tribe/clan/people, but feel free to maim, kill, subjugate or exploit everyone else" certainly IS a moral code, even if it's not a very nice one.

    • Lots of other animals either have or can be taught language, and many more than that have a stricter and more defined social structure. (Morality has no objective meaning.) "What makes us human" is not any one thing, but rather a confluence of many factors:

      We're sufficiently social
      We're can think abstractly
      We can communicate abstractly
      We don't make our children figure things out on their own
      We're omnivorous, which makes agriculture much easier to develop
      We have highly dexterous manipulators
      We're aggressive
  • by priestx (822223)
    Make your protein chain longer! For a limited time only!
  • The Human Mutation
    [...]
    simply identifying it as a very distinct difference

    There are other genes different between humans and other apes. Identifying them requires something like a diff run, not the complex analysis reported in this story. Apparently lacking the human neuropsin gene doesn't disqualify submitters from Slashdot.
  • Damn. (Score:2, Funny)

    I open this topic, thinking I'm gonna get to hear that someone's finally able to shoot eyebeams or read minds and it's just some silly science thing. I demand powers!
  • Ummm.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:28PM (#19046647) Journal
    This is one of a large number of variants between humans and apes. There's no reason to think this is "the gene that makes us human", they're not claiming it is, and reporting this not-especially-interesting news accurately would allow just as many moronic comments about creationism.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Walt Dismal (534799)
      We are one step closer to ManBearPig! Yee-haw!
    • Thank you. I'm feeling too lazy to write out a whole flame of this summary right now (and I should go read the paper before I really lay into it), but that's how I'd sum this up. Sure, chimps and humans are 99% similar, and we've already noted a ton of differences in the literature. What makes this gene in particular more interesting than say...FOXP (which is believed to be responsible for speech.)
  • by sabernet (751826) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @10:02PM (#19046935) Homepage
    Now, with the introduction of said protein, putting a hundred monkeys into a room with typewriters will indeed produce a work the likes of William Shakespear. Only now the chimps will each sue each other for infringing on each other's intellectual property.
  • by eli pabst (948845)
    The fact that they put this genes into chimps and they didn't magically become humans clearly shows that the summary is flat out wrong. I think it's pretty obvious that there is no *one* thing that makes you human, so the concept of a single gene that is responsible for "being human" is absurd. Is this one of many? Likely. A few years back FOXP2 was the big "human gene" and I'm sure there will be more.
  • Calling this "the gene that makes us human" is quite a stretch, isn't it? Not only are there plenty of mutations all over the genome (like the FOXP2 gene [wikipedia.org] that is associated with speech and appeared within the last 200,000 years in the human lineage), but slashdot summary seems to undermine it's own summary when it says, "Introducing this mutation into chimpanzee DNA resulted in the creation of type II neuropsin." If this was "the gene that makes us human", then shouldn't that last sentence read: "Introduc
  • by skeptictank (841287) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:06AM (#19047899)
    I love how these articles about Human vs Great Ape DNA always ignore the fact that Humans have 46 chromosome and Great Apes have 48.
    • by mapkinase (958129)
      They have 2 more chromosomes responsible for body hair.
    • by zCyl (14362) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @04:11AM (#19049087)

      I love how these articles about Human vs Great Ape DNA always ignore the fact that Humans have 46 chromosome and Great Apes have 48.

      This is generally not mentioned because this is not actually an issue. The two chromosomes are not missing, they are simply merged. The same genetic material is there, it's just that four of them got linked together into two longer chromosomes somewhere in our ancestral path.

      Supporters of creationism frequently clamor about two going missing, but geneticists can pinpoint exactly where the two pairs of chromosomes bonded, and show the correspondence between the two species in the unbonded and bonded chromosomes. If anything, this is spectacular support for evolution, since evolution predicts that the chromosomes would have to still be there with such a recent evolution, and they in fact are.
    • by Eivind Eklund (5161) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @04:55AM (#19049257) Journal
      Well, why would they care?

      Chromosome count mutations are fairly well understood, and are separate from the genetic mutations they're talking about here. [madsci.org]

      Your argument has been covered at talk.origins [talkorigins.org] (the standard site for checking background on evolutionary "counter"-arguments.)

      Please, find the time to have pride in yourself and humility in your opinions: Be proud enough to not express an opinion until you have checked it, and be humble enough to accept that the sum total of people that work in a field, having deep knowledge of it, have a large chance of having thought about the same things as you - and possibly thought better. Then, when you find a case where they haven't, even when you've checked, you can make a real contribution :)

      Eivind.

    • by Prune (557140)
      Mod parent down: The two chromosomes are not missing, they are simply merged. The same genetic material is there, it's just that four of them got linked together into two longer chromosomes somewhere in our ancestral path.
  • Now we know (Score:3, Funny)

    by Progman3K (515744) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @12:06AM (#19047905)
    So THAT'S what the monolith did!
  • It's what gives Glagnar's Human Rinds that special human-y flavor.

    Glagnar's human rinds! It's a buncha muncha cruncha human!
  • I'm no geneticist, but couldn't they use this to induce a mutation in the DNA of ape embryos and thus breed something akin to what the 'human' mutation would have looked like?
    • I'm no geneticist, but couldn't they use this to induce a mutation in the DNA of ape embryos and thus breed something akin to what the 'human' mutation would have looked like?

      They already tried it, but the mutated ape wasn't intelligent.

      You can read up on the experiment br googling for "dubya".

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