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New Zealand Herald 10 Jan 97
WASHINGTON They act like us, they look like us and sometimes they even use language like us, and now researchers say they have evidence that chimpanzees have some of the same brain structures for communication as humans. Chimps, our closest cousins, may have smaller brains, but the part of the brain believed to control language is similar, neurologist Patrick Gannon of New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine and colleagues. He and a team at Columbia University and the National Institutes of Health found similarities in ,the planum temporale, beneath the parietal cortex near the centre of the brain.
The planula temporale is normally bigger on the left side of the brain than the right in people. It was also enlarged in the same way in all but one of 18 chimp brains examined by Mr Gannon's team using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Mr Gannon said the findings supported theories that chimpanzees do use language, just not in the shine way that people do. Many researchers have taught chimpanzees and gorillas sign language and taught them to communicate using computers and symbols.
They note that chimpanzees share 99 Per cent of their genes with humans. "I think that chimps have their own complex form of language that we do not as yet understand. They are able to understand a lot of the things (we teach them) and I think the next level will be to try to understand their language,' Mr Gaimon said.
The next step would be to study have chimps, emission tomography (PET) scans of their brains, at work as they did lan- guage tasks.
Mr Gannon said he and colleagues had looked at orangutan and gorilla brains and had found'the same similarity. He figures, the brain,structure dates back to a common ancestor of all great apes and humans. Gannon said the findings also supported activists who oppose using cmmps for scientific research. He said many laboratories had already abandoned using them and now there were many chimpanzees without anywhere to live. "Now it's time to make their lives a little more pleasant," he said.