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'Language learning genes' uncovered

21 February 2011
Appeared in BioNews 596

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have identified a gene that may help explain how language develops in children.

The gene, called ROBO1, helps chemicals in brain cells to recognise and translate speech sounds into meaningful language. The researchers found that a particular variant of ROBO1 significantly enhanced a core component of language learning.

The study identified a significant correlation between the way the gene functions and the brain's ability to store speech for short periods of time, a process which is especially significant during infancy when words are not yet associated with an object or concept.

Professor Timothy Bates, from the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh who led the research, said: 'The discovery of ROBO1 gene helps to understand how speech sounds can be stored long enough to be integrated with meaning'.

Scientists analysed language learning techniques of 538 families with up to five children, for a period of five years. The discovery may help in the understanding of speech disorders, dyslexia, and short term memory problems that affect more than 1 in 10 children in the UK.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the University of Queensland, Australia and the findings were published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

Gene discovery offers clue to how infants pick up language
Medical News Today |  10 February 2011
'Language gene' effect explored by Edinburgh scientists
BBC News Edinburgh, Fife and East Scotland |  9 February 2011
Language learning influenced by genes
Edinburgh University News |  3 February 2011
Scientists find gene that holds key to learning language
Scotsman |  10 February 2011
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