A single gene mutation on the male Y chromosome may have given Homo sapiens the gift of the gab, according to Professor Tim Crow of Oxford University. A single genetic change may have triggered changes in the way the brain 'wires up', eventually producing human language, he told the Observer newspaper.
Professor Crow is to present his ideas at a London conference tomorrow. He believes that a Y-chromosome gene mutation may have 'widened the gap' between the two hemispheres of the brain, freeing up one half to develop the power of speech. But the change may also have left humans vulnerable to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and manic depression. 'These psychoses clearly involve some kind of deviation in language function. That is a very important implication of this work' said Crow.
Palaeontologist Chris Stringer, of London's Natural History Museum, is intrigued by Crow's ideas, but adds 'I always hesitate about accepting single, neatly packaged ideas about our evolution'.