Microbes provide insights into evolution of human language

Apr 23, 2014
Microbes provide insights into evolution of human language
Gram-stained Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria (pink-red rods). Credit: GFDL, CC-by-sa

Big brains do not explain why only humans use sophisticated language, according to researchers who have discovered that even a species of pond life communicates by similar methods.

Dr Thom Scott-Phillips of Durham University led research into Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a type of bacteria common in water and soil, which showed that they communicated in a way that was previously thought to be unique to humans and perhaps some other primates.

The bacteria used combinatorial , in which two signals are used together to achieve an effect that is different to the sum of the effects of the component parts. This is common in language. For example, when we hear 'boathouse', we do not think of boats and houses independently, but of something different – a boathouse.

This type of communication had never been observed in species other than humans and some other primates, until colonies of Pseudomonas aeruginosa were shown to be using the same technique – not, of course, with spoken words but with sent to each other that signalled when to produce certain proteins necessary for the bacteria's survival.

By blocking one signal, then the other, the researchers showed if both signals were sent separately, the effect on protein production was different from both signals being sent together.

Dr Scott-Phillips, a research fellow in evolutionary anthropology at Durham University, conducted the research in collaboration with a team of experts in bacteriology from the universities of Nottingham and Edinburgh.

He commented: "We conducted an experiment on bacterial communication, and found that they communicate in a way that was previously thought to be unique to humans and perhaps some other primates.

"This has serious implications for our understanding of the origins of and language. In particular, it shows that we can assume that combining signals together is unique to the primate lineage."

Explore further: Determination might be a very human expression

More information: 'Combinatorial communication in bacteria: Implications for the origins of linguistic generativity', Scott-Phillips et al, published in PLOS One, 23 April 2014. www.plosone.org/article/info%3… journal.pone.0095929

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RobertKarlStonjek
5 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2014
Unless there is an unbroken hierarchy between this cell communication and human communication then it is unrelated to human language, and as combinatorial elements in communication is not found in non-primates we can assume that this discovery is unrelated to human language which is a form of communication between individuals.

In our deep an dark past similar things were thought to be related, so if lancing a boil cured illness then creating a boil through exposure to burning heat and lancing it might also cure illness.

We have long since moved beyond this naive misunderstanding of nature, or so I thought...
JVK
1.7 / 5 (3) Apr 24, 2014
See also: http://www.scienc...abstract
Secreting and Sensing the Same Molecule Allows Cells to Achieve Versatile Social Behaviors

My comment to Science (excerpt): "That links the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA in the organized genomes of species from microbes to man.

The fact that ecological adaptations occur via a nutrient-dependent signaling pathway, which regulates a pheromone-controlled signalling pathway shows how unicellular and multicellular organisms produce a coordinated response to multiple stimuli with no consideration for mutations or for natural selection of anything except food.

That does not present a problem in the context of biologically-based food odor- and social odor-driven cause and effect, but it makes mutation-driven evolution appear to be not only biologically implausible but also to not be an ecologically valid approach to species diversity."
JVK
1.7 / 5 (3) Apr 24, 2014
See also: http://www.ncbi.n...3130369/

"Particular single nucleotide polymorphisms are associated with core deficits of children with specific language impairment and also coincide with language delays in autistic children [120]. In songbirds, CNTNAP2 is differentially expressed in some song control nuclei, but whether FoxP2 regulates CNTNAP2 in songbirds has not yet been addressed [121]. These findings are encouraging in the light of potential deep homologies between human speech and bird song."

Clearly, many researchers have moved beyond the naive misunderstanding of nature attributed to mutation-initiated natural selection. Conserved molecular mechanisms of intercellular and extracellular signaling processes link microbes to man -- and apparently, due to biophysical constraints on species diversity, conserved molecular mechanisms have always linked microbes to man.

Mutations, however, can still be linked to diseases and disorders of protein folding.