Thursday, April 01, 2010

Deciphering the Zebra Finch's Songbook...

We know that parrots are smart. But did you know that baby Zebra Finches learn to sing the same way that human infants learn to speak - by imitating a parent?

From Songbird genome analysis reveals new insights into vocal behavior
The zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), which derives its name from the black-and-white stripes on the male finch's throat, serves as a valuable model for studying human speech, communication and neurological disorders. The finch is the first songbird — and the second bird, after the chicken — to have its genome sequenced.
A major reason researchers decided to study the zebra finch genome was the male bird's ability to learn complex songs from his father. At first, a fledgling finch makes seemingly random sounds, much like the babble of human babies. With practice, the young bird eventually learns to imitate his father's song. Once the bird has mastered the family song, he will sing it for the rest of his life and pass it on to the next generation. ... In addition to male songbirds, other animals that communicate through learned vocalizations include other songbirds, parrots, hummingbirds, bats, whales and humans.
"These findings will transform scientific research on the songbird system," said Story Landis, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which also provided support for the study. "Although scientists understand much about how songbirds acquire and modify their vocal patterns, the availability of the genome sequence will allow insight into the molecular underpinnings of this natural behavior. This could lead to better understanding of learning and memory, neural development and adaptation, and speech and hearing disorders."

Read more on the subject here: Tweet: Scientists decode songbird's genome, provide clues on language learning.

Research in a similar vein was introduced at the beginning of my novel Little Birdies!, and formed the basis for Dr. Ross's work with transgenic African Grey Parrots.  Little Birdies! is available as a softcover book or as a Kindle ebook...

No comments: