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What You Should Know / March 17, 2011

www.nature.com -- Sex would be a very different proposition for humans if — like some animals including chimpanzees, macaques and mice — men had penises studded with small, hard spines. Now researchers at Stanford University in California have found a molecular mechanism for how the human penis could have evolved to be so distinctly spine-free. They have pinpointed it as the loss of a particular chunk of non-coding DNA that influences the expression of the androgen receptor gene involved in hormone signalling. "It is a small but fascinating part of a bigger picture about the evolution of human-specific traits," said Gill Bejerano, a developmental biologist at Stanford who led the work along with colleague David Kingsley. "We add a molecular perspective to a discussion that has been going on for several decades at least."

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