I found this article while I was browsing sciencedaily.com. It is about a study that was done by a group of researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine and the National Institutes of Mental Health. They wanted to understand how the human brain increased in size and complexity so much in such a short period of time. They found that the protein domain DUF1220 may be responsible for the increase in brain size. Humans have 270 copies of this domain and the largest brain relative to body size of any species. In other species, the number of these domains directly correlates to brain size. There was also evidence of this in humans. People who had microcephaly (brains that are too small) had lower numbers of DUF1220 and people who had macrocephaly (brains that are too small) had higher numbers of DUF1220. I thought this article was really interesting and the possibilities for using this to diagnose diseases related to the brain are exciting!
As I was reading about the apes in chapter 5 of our book, I started to become very interested the similarities between us and remembered seeing videos of the gorilla Koko such as this one:
Watching Koko use American Sign Language to communicate with people seems amazing, but there is a lot of controversy on whether Koko is actually speaking or just imitating signs to please her human teachers. It certainly does not help that Koko’s primary teacher, Penny Patterson does not have very much data to support her claims that Koko can speak other than some videos of Koko playing with kittens or hanging out with celebrities. This article http://www.littletree.com.au/koko.htm outlines the attempts at teaching apes to speak beginning with the chimpanzee Washoe in 1966, and then goes on to explain the controversy surrounding the studies. One important factor of language is grammar, something the apes do not utilize. They say words in any order and do not have the complexity in their speech that humans do. For these reasons, as well as others, researchers such as Noam Chomsky do not believe that the apes actually understand language and maintain the belief that language is a uniquely human characteristic.