Scientists, by chance, have found a gene associated with severe clumsiness and other movement difficulties. Mutations of the gene cause Joubert syndrome, a brain malfunction accompanied by weakness, abnormal eye movements, learning difficulties, and mental retardation.

The researchers suspect that positive versus negative changes in the same gene may be important in the evolution, over millions of years, of movements that are uniquely human, motions that distinguish humans from apes.

Unfortunately, identifying this gene offers no help for people suffering from Joubert syndrome. “It is a genetic disease that affects the brain as it develops in the womb,” explains Russell Ferland, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School.

“We are interested in identifying such genes of disease-related importance, because they tell us about normal development and the evolution of the brain,” says Christopher A. Walsh, Bullard Professor of Neurology.

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