Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Microbes provide insights into evolution of human language

Date:
April 23, 2014
Source:
Durham University
Summary:
Research into Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a type of bacteria common in water and soil, shows that they can communicate in a way that was previously thought to be unique to humans and perhaps some other primates. The bacteria used combinatorial communication, in which two signals are used together to achieve an effect that is different to the sum of the effects of the component parts.

Microscopic image of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Gram staining, magnification 1,000 times.
Credit: By Y_tambe (Y_tambe's file) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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's Department of Anthropology, 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 communication, 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 human 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 chemical messengers 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 human communication and language. In particular, it shows that we can not assume that combining signals together is unique to the primate lineage."

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust. The findings are published today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Durham University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Thomas C. Scott-Phillips, James Gurney, Alasdair Ivens, Stephen P. Diggle, Roman Popat. Combinatorial Communication in Bacteria: Implications for the Origins of Linguistic Generativity. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (4): e95929 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0095929

Cite This Page:

Durham University. "Microbes provide insights into evolution of human language." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140423221420.htm>.
Durham University. (2014, April 23). Microbes provide insights into evolution of human language. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140423221420.htm
Durham University. "Microbes provide insights into evolution of human language." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140423221420.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Hoping to break the record for world's wooliest, Shaun the sheep came up 10 pounds shy with his fleece weighing over 50 pounds after being shorn for the first time in years. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) Canadian scientists looking into the very first land animals took a fish out of water and forced it to walk. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Ancient Wine Cellar Found In Israel

Huge Ancient Wine Cellar Found In Israel

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) An international team uncovered a large ancient wine celler that likely belonged to a Cannonite ruler. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins