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Tuesday, January 27, 1998 Published at 04:45 GMT


Speech gene discovered
image: [ Discovery could help scientists to understand how we learn to speak ]
Discovery could help scientists to understand how we learn to speak

British scientists say they have discovered the first gene known to control speech and language.

The team who made the major breakthrough say that in time it could lead them to all the genes involved in speech and provide answers to why some people find learning languages easier than others.

[ image: Speech gene hidden among 50,000 others genes]
Speech gene hidden among 50,000 others genes
The findings, published in the scientific journal Nature Genetics, could eventually have major implications for people with learning disabilities, the researchers added.

The team from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, and the Institute of Child Health, discovered the gene, named SPEECH 1, in a 10-year study of a family who suffer language difficulties.

Around half of the last three generations of this family, known only as the KE family, are affected by a severe speech and language disorder.

The condition makes it impossible for them to write grammatically and makes their speech very hard to understand.

[ image: Some children find learning languages easy]
Some children find learning languages easy
The research found the defects exhibited by the family came from the SPEECH 1 gene which lies in a cluster of around 50 of a human's 50,000 genes.

One of the group's leading scientists, Dr Anthony Monaco, said: "This has been a long and complex study of a family with a rare single gene disorder affecting speech and language development.

"We have now found the area where the gene exists and we can now work towards isolating the gene.

"It is located in the same area as the gene linked to autism which is often associated with language delay and so could have very important implications for that disorder.

[ image: Years of research lie ahead]
Years of research lie ahead
"We can now begin to build up a much fuller picture of various language and speech disorders, which is very encouraging."

The scientists hope that as they discover more about the gene and its close relatives, they can look for comparisons in animals and try and discover how we inherit our ability to develop language.

They hope this research will lead scientists to come up with ways to treat language and speech disorders.

How humans developed the ability to speak and communicate in a sophisticated way continues to be hotly debated. The discovery of SPEECH 1 could lead to the answer.

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Internet Links

The Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics

Nature Genetics

A beginner's guide to genetics

Human Genome Mapping Project Resource Centre

Language Based Learning Disability: Research

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