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Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

The resulting tree matches many existing ideas about language development.Spanish and Portuguese come out as sisters, for example - both are cousins to German, and Hindi is a more distant relation to all three.The finding hints that farmers in what is now Turkey drove the language boom - and not later Siberian horsemen, as some linguists reckon.Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand use the rate at which words change to gauge the age of the tree's roots - just as biologists estimate a species' age from the rate of gene mutations.The farmers themselves may have moved, or natives may have adopted words along with agricultural technology.

The conclusion will be controversial, as there is no consensus on where Indo-European languages came from.For ASPM, the variation arose about 5,800 years ago, roughly correlating with the development of written language, spread of agriculture and development of cities, he said."The genetic evolution of humans in the very recent past might in some ways be linked to the cultural evolution," he said.They were less common in sub-Saharan African populations, for example.That does not mean one population is smarter than another, Lahn and other scientists stressed, noting that numerous other genes are key to brain development.All other Indo-European languages split off from Hittite, the oldest recorded member of the group, between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, the pair calculates.