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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 fishthegeek (943099) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:14PM (#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.
  • Typical... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ls -la (937805) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:19PM (#19046551) Journal
    ... 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 us apart from "animals". IMO, a better breakthrough would be to see if apes have some sort of moral code, or even finding the genes that give us a voicebox. Speech is the one thing we have that no other animal does. Speech leads to language, which is really the only way (I can think of, at least) to exchange abstract ideas (another gene to look for, abstract thought).
  • Ummm.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:28PM (#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.
  • by FlyByPC (841016) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:29PM (#19046667) Homepage
    Oh, no. They can just claim that God designed this gene.

    I gotta hand it to them -- no matter what the evidence, they can sidestep it...
  • Re:Typical... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tinrobot (314936) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:47PM (#19046799)
    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.
  • you maniacs! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by crayz (1056) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @08:53PM (#19046869) Homepage
    You created type II neuropsin in chimp brains! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!
  • That's because ID is creationism attempting to invade the realm of science. Do so and you subject yourself to science's rules.

    That said, there is no amount of evidence that will convince the really staunch ID proponents. Then again, there are still people who believe in geocentrism.
  • by eli pabst (948845) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:47PM (#19047327)
    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.
  • by radtea (464814) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @09:56PM (#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."
  • by Who235 (959706) <secretagentx9 AT cia DOT com> on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @10:13PM (#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.

  • by bogjobber (880402) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @10:20PM (#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.

  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @10:58PM (#19047851)

    God set in motion the rules of physics and chemistry for the universe and created everything you see (and don't see).
    We aren't a result of the universe.
    It is a result of us.
    It didn't come from us but it is here for us to exist.

    What world do you live in where you can just state these kind of wild hypotheses with no evidence whatsoever and expect anybody to accept that as a reasonable argument?

    Oh, that's right. The religious one where that actually is a perfectly compelling argument.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:06PM (#19047903)
    You seem like a good candidate to answer this question: which component of the theory of evolution do you think is wrong? Do you think that genes don't mutate? Do you think genes aren't expressed externally? Do you think that no mutations create favorable phenotypes for survival and/or reproduction? Evolution is the sum total of those and a few other phenomena, so tell me which component is false or unsupported.

    I'm afraid if you want to disprove evolution you'll have to show flaws in science, real science, and not the vague "evolution" you hear about in the media. Idiot. Can't believe this is what passes for independent thought these days.
  • by h2_plus_O (976551) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:54PM (#19048181)
    Science won't ever disprove religion because religion begins a priori from the premise of [insert faith-based foundation of religion here]. You could prove pretty much any scientific fact to most religious folks and they'll relate to it in one of 3 ways:

    • 1) they'll regard it as a new revelation of [God]'s mystery
    • 2) they'll regard it as neat information about the world, but irrelevant to their faith because their faith isn't derived from anything in the physical world, or
    • 3) they'll regard it as a test of their faith
    Thoreau once said, "Only that day dawns to which we are awake." There's a lesson in there: there's no other possible world available to you than the one you've made space for in your mind. The religious are awake to their kind of day, and you and I are awake to a different kind of day based on different logical, rational, or asserted postulates (from which all else follows pretty rationally once you accept the prior postulate).

    Hey, for all we know, they might be right. (May his noodly gloriousness be merciful when the rapture comes, if that's the case.)
  • by kanweg (771128) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:55PM (#19048189)
    "You need to start thinking for yourself for once and not believe that everything you read is true."

    How about if you eat your own medicine?

    Bert
  • 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.
  • by sconeu (64226) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @01:37AM (#19048687) Homepage Journal
    OK, we get the idea. Bush is stupid. Ha ha.

    Do we have to have this in every fucking thread?

    There are a lot of other reasons to dislike Bush, most notably his use of the Constitution for toilet paper.

  • by Moraelin (679338) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @03:37AM (#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.
  • by Eivind Eklund (5161) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @03:55AM (#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.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @04:57AM (#19049517)
    How is this insightful?

    'It is the recognition of Santa Claus, the concept of Santa. No matter if you accept it or deny it, or say "I do not know". If you capable to answer the question "Does Santa Claus exist?" in any way: positive, negative or ignorant way, once you have been presented with it, then you are a human.'

    We do not need God or even a "concept of God" to be human.
  • by Jamu (852752) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @07:15AM (#19050153)

    God and creationism is a marker that reads: "Stop thinking here". Your assertion that some god set in motion the rules of Physics and Chemistry is fantasy. Your drivel about us and the universe is logically inconsistent. Evolution has never been disproved. The data doesn't contradict it, and I don't see anyone inventing data to support the theory. Your statement that evolution is only a theory is asinine. Your statement that it doesn't make predictions is false (do some research). I have a better theory about the existence of the theory of Evolution: Someone made a guess and the data doesn't contradict the guess. Here's another theory that might assist you: Some skeletons don't last for long. Some of your other points I agree with.

  • by Tanktalus (794810) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @09:23AM (#19051325) Journal

    I think all the secularists/humanists are misreading the OPs comment. It's not about God, per se. It's the concept of the abstract. To be able to understand the concept of a possibility of something that cannot be universally sensed. To have the capacity to understand concepts beyond one's own experiences. Another example may be "black hole" or "quantum theory" or "the Jewish Holocaust" - although the last one actually happened, those alive today probably weren't there to experience it, yet we can pass down the information about it, and individuals are free to decide that it is real, it's a myth (see: the Iranian President), or remain undecided about its veracity as history.

  • by Jasin Natael (14968) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:34AM (#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 jotok (728554) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @10:49AM (#19052529)
    You didn't refute the OP's point--that humanity is about faith in things that cannot be proven.
  • by irenaeous (898337) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @11:20AM (#19053009) Journal

    The comparison of Santa Claus to "God" is a false analogy or comparison. God is not a particular entity that you can show someone like you could with Santa Claus. Santa Claus -- even with his enhanced mythical abilities -- is not omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. God cannot be encompassed and possibly "proved to exist" empirically, but Santa Claus -- if he existed -- could be shown to exist by empirical means. The same is not true of God. Even if God were to perform some verifiable "miracle" today -- there would be no way to discern if the miracle were really the result of an action by a transcendent supernatural being, or if there was really a natural explanation. In fact, scientific protocols would dictate that we eschew the former in favor of the later.

    "God", as understood in western monotheistic belief is a transcendent being. The idea of God is more akin to a universal explanatory theory, a metaphysical framework used to interpret reality as a whole. Many aspects of God as an idea is subject to falsification to some degree. For example, the whole problem of evil is claimed to contradict the idea of a "good" God. But "God" as a universal explanatory theory is not empirically verifiable in the same sense as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. The two concepts are very different, so the analogy fails.

    A more correct analogy would be to compare Santa Claus with specific religious myths that make empirical claims. For example, the Santa Claus myth could be compare with claims made for Jesus Christ, or Mohammad or Zeus.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party. -- Dennis Ritchie

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