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Unique Genes

April 14, 2008

We inherited most of our genes from our evolutionary ancestors. But a small percentage of genes only occur in humans. Scientists are just starting to find out how they make us who we are.


The genetics of humanity…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Philosophers have long wondered what makes us uniquely human. Modern science, on the other hand, is just beginning to shed light on this age-old question. Evolutionary biology allows us to trace most of the genes we need for basic survival all the way back to simple organisms like yeast. But according to cell biologist Phil Stahl of Washington University School of Medicine, researchers have identified about 50 to 100 unique genes found only in human beings. So far, not much is known about these genes that separate us from our closest relatives.

PHIL STAHL (Washington University School of Medicine):
It is amazing that very little work has been done on exactly what these human-specific genes actually do.

But he says scientists are starting to find out. He suspects many of these genes are involved in speech, cognition and diseases that occur only in humans. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.