Songbirds Give Clues About Vocal Learning

Posted: April 5, 2010 at 8:13 am

Story Summary: The researchers also found evidence that song behavior engages complex gene regulatory networks within the brain of the songbird- networks that rely on parts of the genome once considered junk. The zebra finch genome sequence and analysis published in the April 1 issue of the journal Nature was funded in part by the National Human Genome Research Institute, a component of the National Institutes of Health. A major reason researchers decided to study the zebra finch genome was the male birds ability to learn complex songs from his father. However, researchers discovered that some genes associated with vocal behavior have undergone accelerated evolution in the finch. For example, they found a disproportionately high number of ion channel genes among the 49 genes in the finch genome that are suppressed, or turned off, in response to song. Ion channels allow the movement of ions (electrically charged particles) across cell membranes. It was once thought that the non-coding part of the genome was not essential, amounting to biological junk. Recently, researchers have begun to amass evidence that many parts of the non-coding regions serve important biological functions. Analysis of the zebra finch genome sequence suggested that ncRNAs, which have been proposed to contribute to the evolution of greater complexity in humans and other animals, may be a driving force behind learned vocal communication. 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. —Image Caption: NHGRI-supported researchers have sequenced the genome of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). —Image Caption: NHGRI-supported researchers have sequenced the genome of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). —Image Caption: NHGRI-supported researchers have sequenced the genome of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)….Read the Full Story

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