Researchers believe that they have found the definitive difference between humans and other primates, and they think that the difference all comes down to a single gene.
What makes us human? Some say that it is the development of language, though others argue that animals have language as well
. Some say that it is our ability to use tools, though many animals are able to use rocks and other objects as primitive tools. Some say that it is our ability to see death coming.
Now, researchers believe that they have found the definitive difference between humans and other primates, and they think that the difference all comes down to a single gene.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland attribute the split of humanity from apes to the gene miR-941. They say that the gene played an integral role in human development and contributed to humans' ability to use tools and learn languages.
Most of the time, when one species diverges from another, that difference occurs because of gene mutations, duplications, or deletions. However, this gene is believed to have emerged, fully functional, from "junk DNA" in a breathtakingly short amount of evolutionary time.
Humans share 96 percent
of their genes with other primates. Of the 4 percent that humans alone have, a significant portion of it has been widely labeled "junk DNA". Researchers have since that "junk DNA" is functional, even though it does not code. This is the first time that a gene that humans and other primates do not share has been shown to actually have a specific function within the body.
Researchers came to this conclusion after comparing the human genome to 11 other species of mammals, including gorillas, chimpanzees, mice, and rats. These comparisons were made so that the geneticists could find the difference between them.
In a study published in Nature Communications
, researchers say that the gene emerged sometime between six and one million years ago.
The gene is highly active in the regions of the brain that control language learning and decision making, indicating that it may play a significant role in the higher brain functions that make humans, well, human.