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Gene Mutation Sought to Explain Mysterious Language Problem. Ewen Callaway in Nature; June 2012.


The history of human beings may figuratively be called a summary of questions and answers. Some questions are still left unanswered. Presently, the issue of human genes and mutation is considered to be partly mysterious. The mutation may be described as a change in the DNA sequence. One of the mysteries that human genes have concerns people’s ability to use language as a means of communication. Homo sapiens is the only species known to have the capacity to talk. If this capacity is imprinted in genes, then any shift in the code may bring unexpected consequences. This theory is discussed in the article under consideration that is titled “Gene Mutation Sought to Explain Mysterious Language Problem”.

The hypothesis about mutation is supported by the data about the gene that was recently discovered. In 2011, a group of scientists described one unique item in human DNA. Among a number of genes responsible for different human abilities, there is one known as FOXP2, which has its effects on language cognition. It is suggested that this gene keeps the encoded data that could explain the phenomenon of language. In some cases, this language gene mutates and causes serious language defects. For this reason, it is necessary to emphasize that the gene was discovered in the process of examination of people with speech deficits. A small part of a cell may offer new approaches to understanding how the brain produces speech. The mutations of FOXP2 give scientists the opportunity to further research language and speech evolution.

The complications in the development of communication skills are described in the article. The author of the piece of writing presents the case of a five-year-old boy who experiences difficulties in the process of a verbal exchange of information and expression of his thoughts. This information is a matter of interest for biological studies.


The article “Gene Mutation Sought to Explain Mysterious Language Problem” informs readers about a group of scientists who try to discover the key elements that may describe specific language problems. The main idea is that a single gene mutation could occur in the DNA and create language flaws. David Skuse, an expert on language development, and Josie Briscoe, cognitive psychologist, take a closer look at a five-year-old boy who fails to communicate with people successfully.

The scholars focused their direct attention on the boy because he, apart from being smart and cheerful, clearly had a set of difficulties in the process of speaking. In the beginning, Skuse established the main obstacles. Firstly, the boy had troubles remembering the names of his partners in a conversation. Secondly, he frequently was not able to recall the words that named basic objects. For example, the word for toothpaste did not always come to his mind when it was needed. This condition of the boy was something entirely new and unexplained.

The scientific curiosity was emphasized by the fact that the mother of the boy suffered from similar problems. The next step was research of the family history. The mother was bilingual. She also was struggling to remember some words in her native English language. What is more, her mother, the boy’s grandmother, could hardly recount the things she saw on television shows even if it was what she had just seen. Skuse and his colleagues came to the conclusion that the family issue, the “word-finding problem”, required more study. The idea described in the article suggests that the key to the language difficulties in several generations of the family under analysis may be a genetic mutation.

Skuse and other scientists found language abnormities in four generations. They advanced a hypothesis that language difficulties could be incorporated into genes. This situation was reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. The theory lacked evidence and could be easily argued. For example, the reason for language problems could be a generally low IQ of the family. Thus, an experiment was conducted in order to understand the situation better. Language and memory tasks were given to family members. Josie Briscoe believed it could allow scientists to discover more about those language defects. The results did not contradict a gene-mutation theory. All the family members who were tested showed non-verbal intelligence that was higher than the average results. The verbal intelligence was normal. The point is that those people did not suffer language difficulties because of, for instance, poor memory. They showed poor results in word naming tests. This fact indicated that there was something wrong in the genes.

The point was clear. If there was something in the genes that could cause the language anomalies, then there should have been a specific gene that could have such effects. Previously, in 2001, the gene FOXP2 was being studied when scientist came across another family with language difficulties. The language gene explained similar problems in the process of communication that were on the semantic level. The case of a boy could fall into the same category connected with the gene FOXP2. Skuse, Briscoe and other scientist started to look for the genes that were out of order in the DNA of the boy and his family. If they were able to confirm that the gene was responsible for language difficulties mentioned above, a single genetic mutation could have been established. This presents a new field of research and unpredictable findings because the language problems are discussed on the genetic level. However, this research requires time.

Critical Analysis

The article illustrates that a defect in one little part of a cell in a brain may affect the basic human ability to talk. The scientist who studied the case of the boy and his family suggests that a specific gene could be modified. This means that mutation might have occurred. The human mutation is always reflected in the genes. Different natural mistakes are reflected in DNA. Sometimes, mutation may be perceived visually; in other cases, a closer look is needed. The gene FOXP2 is a part of a sequence responsible for language cognition.

The significance of the article is in the illustration of new approaches to identifying different disorders. It is important to emphasize that the scientists believe a single mutation could have influenced not just one person, but the following generations. I agree that the problem is in genes related specifically to language because other abilities to recollect knowledge (for example, memory) are in order.

The article discusses important information regarding the matter of a genetic trait. In order to understand this, one needs to identify related genes and their functions, describe language troubles, analyze and examine the work of specific areas in a brain. This means that the matter under consideration lies at the crossroads of different disciplines, such as biology, linguistics, neuroscience, and others. Thus, the article relates to material covered in the course and implies a wider field for studies.

The significance of the information presented in the article is that the identification of the genetic mutation connected with this language failure trait may be a discovery of something new. This genetic basis might help to answer questions regarding a brain’s ability to connect certain words with objects and ideas. It is a crucial issue because communication is the basic element that allows people to share information.

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