The Complete Genome of a Songbird Could Offer Clues into Language Learning

by Savitha C Muppala on  April 2, 2010 at 11:58 PM Research News   - G J E 4
 The Complete Genome of a Songbird Could Offer Clues into Language Learning
The complete genome of a songbird - the Australian zebra finch has been sequenced by scientists.

According to researchers, their work could provide insights into how humans learn language and new ways of studying speech disorders.

During the study, researchers found a much higher proportion of the bird's DNA is actively engaged by the act of singing songs.

"The system for singing has much more complexity than we imagined," said co-author Erich Jarvis, Duke professor of neurobiology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

"In the part of the brain that controls learning how to sing, about 5 percent of the genes are regulated by the action of singing. I thought there might be 100 genes, but our laboratory found that there are at least 800 regulated genes turning off and on, and there may be many more," Jarvis added.

Jarvis was the first to discover that singing altered genetic activity in songbirds.

"We were also able for the first time to use the genome sequence to infer the regulatory regions that turn genes on and off and the manner in which they may interact," he said.

Researchers say that the new work could help understand how humans learn language.

It also could help identify the genetic and molecular origins of speech disorders, including those related to autism, stroke, stuttering and Parkinson's Disease, the said.

The findings could also have an impact on research into deafness and language learning after the critical learning period.

"Overall, the genome will help researchers worldwide learn about the genes responsible for developing neural circuits for critical periods of learning, study the effect of hormones on brain and behaviour, and provide further information for a model of sex-related brain differences," Jarvis said.

The study has been published April 1 in Nature.

Source: ANI

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