A Bioinformatics Study of NAGPA, GNPTAB and GNPTG, Three Genes Likely Involved in the Development of Speech and Language in Homo sapiens

DOI: 10.14673/HE2015341013
Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2015

Key words: bioinformatics analysis; NAGPA, GNPTAB and GNPTG genes; human evolution; language and speech.

Abstract
Complex traits, such as language and speech in Homo sapiens, typically have a polygenic basis, and it is therefore highly improbable that exclusively FOXP2 – the only gene currently known to be specifically implicated in the development of linguistic processes – was selected in the evolution of our language abilities. Thus, with the purpose of examining the possible contribution of other genes to the evolution of language and speech in humans, in this study we performed an extensive bioinformatics analysis of the expression of the genes NAGPA, GNPTAB and GNPTG (mutations of which have previously been linked to speech disorders) in Homo sapiens, Pan troglodytes and other non-human primates, mammals and vertebrates, in order to examine their molecular evolution. By comparing protein-coding nucleotide sequences and encoded amino-acid sequences, we found, most notably, a few amino-acid substitutions between Homo sapiens and our closest living evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee, in each of the protein sequences encoded by these three genes, and we have determined the functional value of each replacement. All three genes are derived in humans relative to chimpanzees, and there is one amino-acid replacement with a high functional value in both the enzymes that are encoded by them, and which have evolved in the human lineage. Although the results of evolutionary analyses indicate that these genes are globally under purifying selection in Primates, similarly this occurs with FOXP2. The human FOXP2 protein differs from the chimpanzee sequence in just two replacements, which should, nevertheless, be regarded as strongly linked to human language acquisition, even though they can not be seen to have a high functional value. It appears, therefore, reasonable to infer that the genes GNPTAB, GNPTG, and particularly, NAGPA, might also have had a role in the evolution of human language.

Fiore, M.G.
Mandino, F.
Ramazzotti, M.
Meacci, E.
Ruggiero, M.
Department of Experimental and Clinical Biomedical Sciences,
University of Florence, Viale Morgagni 50, 50134 Firenze, Italy.
Correspondence to: Dr. Maria G. Fiore
E-mail: giulietz@hotmail.it

Magherini, S.
Pacini, S.
Department of Experimental and Clinical Medicine,
University of Florence, Viale Morgagni 85, 50134 Firenze, Italy.

Chiarelli, B.
International Institute for Humankind Studies, Via del Proconsolo 12,
50122 Firenze, Italy.

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Rock Engravings in Ain Ala (Afar, Ethiopia)

DOI: 10.14673/HE2015341012
Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2015

Key wordsEthiopia, Afar, rock art, engravings, Ethiopian-Arabic style.

Abstract
The existence of a new site with manifestations of rock art in Afar (northern Ethiopia) has been noted. The site consists of a few blocks of rock with depictions of cattle, an anthropomorphic figure and some handprints engraved on the surface. The chronology of these artistic manifestations can not be defined with precision, but the documentation of Ain Ala, however, contributes to broadening existing data on rock art in the Horn of Africa.

Bachechi, L.
Department of Biology, University of Florence,
Via del Proconsolo 12, 50122 Firenze. Italy.
E-mail: luca.bachechi @unifi.it

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Linoleic Acid: A Milestone in Brain Evolution? From Bacteria, Fungi and Plants to Animal and Human Beings

DOI: 10.14673/HE2015341011
Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2015

Key words: Linoleic Acid, humans, animals, bacteria, plants, fungi, brain, symmetry breaking, evolution.

Abstract
Here we discuss the role of Linoleic Acid (LA-C18:2 n-6), a fatty acid considered essential for life, which has always been present during evolution in bacteria, fungi, plants, animals and human beings. There is evidence of similar concentrations of Linoleic Acid (close to zero) in the brains of humans and animals in all stages of life. Moreover, observations of Linoleic Acid in bacteria, plants and fungi indicate that it has been an important milestone throughout the course of evolution. With regard to fungi, we note the presence of Arachidonic Acid and cholesterol in its early development. Finally, we consider some aspects of cholesterol and oxygen during evolution and their relationship with Linoleic Acid.

Cocchi, M.
Minuto, C.
“Paolo Sotgiu” Institute for Research
in Quantitative & Quantum Psychiatry & Cardiology, LUdeS, Lugano, Switzerland.
Department of Veterinary Medical Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy.
E-mail: massimo.cocchi@unibo.it

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Pages: 13
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The Secret of Intelligence: Towards a New Materialism

DOI: 10.14673/HE2015341010
Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2015

Key words: intelligence, brain, materialism, evolution, connectome.

Abstract
New analytic techniques have led to a richness of information from the neurosciences in recent years. Philosophical work on brain phenomena, and their explanation, will need to be highly sensitive to the precise parameters of these empirical findings. We are neither our neurons (the neuron is not an epistemic subject), our genes (we have no special cells), nor our synapses (we are not an electrochemical control room). Our brain is not computational because the neuron changes with each connection, modifying in turn the architecture of the connections. A material process of change in the strength of the connections that might explain how simple brain matter becomes Higher-Order Thought. We are not ‘brains in a vat’ because we are immersed in a socio-cultural environment where experience shapes us through a Darwinian process of ‘creative destruction-selection.’ We are therefore our connectome, which seems to be our pragmatic identity, a mixed material-mental form, or rather, a set of ‘intentions in action’. The findings of recent experimental studies confirm this view. The enhancement of abstract reasoning, both inductive and deductive, in new tasks of problem-solving makes intelligence fluid, not directly dependent on our experience, our historical-evolutionary baggage: a process that could be defined as ‘value-coding,’ which Darwin called ‘forgotten reasons.’ The study, then, of global intelligence (both fluid and crystallized) refutes the hypothesis of higher cognitive abilities being related to connections that are highly and permanently connected. On the contrary, the level of intelligence is correlated with the ability to transfer information to distant areas of the brain by weak connections, that are flexible and adaptable. This shows that the secret of intelligence lies in the plasticity of the adaptation processes, in the ability to incorporate in the present act the variability of the past history of the mind, in other words, a ‘flexible nested brain mind’. As a corollary, neuroscience now encompasses plausible theories in many domains, including the mind, especially since the weight of evidence indicates that mental processes actually are processes of the brain. In short, the mind is not a non-physical entity.

Rossi, A.
Director of the Department of Neurological and Sensorial Sciences,
University of Siena, Viale Bracci 16,
53100 Siena, Italy.
E-mail: alessandro.rossi@unisi.it

Attanasio, A.
Department of Philosophy,
Head of the Laboratory of “Neuroethics and Social Cognition,”
University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Via Carlo Fea 2,
00161 Roma, Italy.
E-mail: alessandra.attanasio@uniroma1.it

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Pages: 18
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Stress Distribution and Molar Macrowear in Pongo pygmaeus: A New Approach through Finite Element and Occlusal Fingerprint Analyses

DOI: 10.14673/HE2015341009
Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2015

Key wordsfallback foods, dental macrowear, biomechanics, diet.

Abstract
Pongo pygmaeus is a large great ape that lives in highly seasonal environments of Borneo, where the preferred foods, such as ripe and soft fruits, are often unavailable. During these periods orangutans rely on hard food items, such as nuts and seeds, which become particularly challenging to eat. Is their dental morphology designed to feed on these hard foods? In order to answer this question we employ an innovative digital approach that integrates Finite Element Analysis with occlusal molar macrowear. Our preliminary results on a lower second molar (M2) suggest that the feeding behavior of orangutans manly involve crushing masticatory processes and little shearing, typical of hard-object diets. The morphology of P. pygmaeus M2, with low cusps, thick enamel and a wrinkled occlusal surface seem to minimize tensile stresses in the tooth. The protostylid with its (moderate) buttress-shaped morphology seems to functionally suffer the high tensile stresses concentrated along the buccal groove of the crown by the extensive load applied on the buccal cusps during maximum intercuspation. Thus, it appears that non-preferred foods (also called fallback foods) such as nuts and seeds have played a major role in the evolutionary and morphological adaptations in P. pygmaeus molars. This new method can be further used to advance our understanding of the diet, morphology and evolution of extinct hominins.

Fiorenza, L.
Earth Sciences, University of New England,
Armidale NSW 2351, Australia.
Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology,
Monash University,
Melbourne VIC 3800, Australia.
E-mail: luca.fiorenza@monash.edu

Nguyen, H.N.
Department of Human Evolution,
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology,
Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.

Benazzi, S.
Department of Human Evolution,
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology,
Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.
Department of Cultural Heritage,
University of Bologna,
Via degli Ariani 1,
48121 Ravenna, Italy.

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Pages: 12
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The Development of the Communication System of Chimpanzees during Ontogenesis

DOI: 10.14673/HE2015341008
Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2015

Key words: communication complexes, chimpanzees, ontogenesis, communication systems.

Abstract
The objective of this study was to compare the communication processes of young and adult chimpanzees, to establish how the development of communication modes in the ontogenesis of these primates unfolds and to determine possible preconditions for the origin of hominid speech in the course of anthropogenesis.
Systems of communication were studied in 9 chimpanzees: 3 adult females, 3 adult males, and 3 young chimpanzees. The chimpanzees were from the Saint Petersburg zoo and the laboratory for the physiology of primate behaviour at the Pavlov Institute of Physiology in the village of Koltushi in the Leningrad region.
Communicative behaviour was observed with the use of specially devised matrices that considered virtually all elements of communication (facial expressions, postures, gestures, tactile elements, acoustic signals etc.).
The author discovered that communication in chimpanzees serves as a very important mechanism for increasing the sociability of group members. The most significant elements were those that belonged to friendly contexts conveyed via acoustic and visual communication channels. Friendly gestures were accompanied by friendly sounds, connection between friendly visual and acoustic communication strengthened. In aggressive contexts, the author noted harmonic sounds, and in friendly ones, mixed articulatory sounds like ‘ah’, ‘oh’, ‘ooh’. The elements of communication complexes were not very variable and were used as established communication units. The communication process was quite labile and the communicative systems were characterized by great individual variability.

Vasilyev, S.V.
Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology,  
Russian Academy of Sciences, Leninskiy pr. 32a, 119991 Moscow, Russia.
E-mail: vasbor1@yandex.ru

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Pages: 39
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Meaningful Informational Exchange and Pantomime in Chimpanzees and Bonobos: Implications for Proto-Language in Hominins

DOI: 10.14673/HE2015341007
Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 30 – n.3-4 – 2015

Key words: Informational-exchange, communication, music, pantomime, Pan, Hominin, chimpanzee, bonobo.

Abstract
The various modes of meaningful informational exchange exhibited by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus), from the very basic to the complex, are surveyed in comparison to humans, and hypothesized for extinct hominins. Signaling by facial expressions, body language and manual gestures are demonstrated for message transmission, whereas iconographic mark-making and miming are described as more advanced means of communication (requiring high mental competency and developed spatial mapping). Music, vocal control and vocal learning are exemplified as another complex means of conveying context specific bilateral messages. Moreover, personal, social and cultural consequences of the different informational exchange modes in Pan are dealt with in comparison to humans (e.g., individual versus group identity, selfhood and personality). The Pan subjects described in this study include bonobos and chimpanzees from different sanctuaries and zoos in three continents, thus providing a broad vision on the communicational repertoire of captive Pan. This essay confirms that Pan possess all the essential attributes required for hominin-type communication and argues that as such they should be allowed to fulfill their potential as sister species to humans. We propose that further studies conducted in captivity and in the wild will enable the construction of a lexicon for Pan proto-language, and thus promote the development of a Pan/human dialog through alliance building.

Roffman, I.
Institute of Evolution, University of Haifa,
199 Aba Khoushy Ave., Mount Carmel, Haifa 3498838, Israel.
E-mail: iroffman@gmail.com

Peleg, G.
Institute of Evolution, University of Haifa,
199 Aba Khoushy Ave., Mount Carmel, Haifa 3498838, Israel.
E-mail: gili.peleg@gmail.com

Stadler, A.
Zoo Wuppertal, Wuppertal 42117, Germany.
Email: Andre.Stadler@stadt. wuppertal.de

Nevo, E.
Institute of Evolution, University of Haifa,
199 Aba Khoushy Ave., Mount Carmel, Haifa 3498838, Israel.
E-mail: nevo@research.haifa.ac.il

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Pages: 34
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