Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Songbird genome sings of the communicating brain

Date:
March 31, 2010
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
The Australian zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata, weighs less than half an ounce, mates for life and, unlike most vocalizing animals, learns its songs from its elders. A new analysis of its genome, the first of a songbird, is providing tantalizing clues to the mechanisms and evolution of vocal communication.

“There is a functional developmental parallel between the way a bird learns to sing and a human learns to speak,” said David Clayton, a professor of neuroscience and cell and developmental biology at the University of Illinois led the group that proposed and organized the genome sequencing effort.
Credit: Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, U. of I. News Bureau.

The Australian zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata, weighs less than half an ounce, mates for life and, unlike most vocalizing animals, learns its songs from its elders. A new analysis of its genome, the first of a songbird, is providing tantalizing clues to the mechanisms and evolution of vocal communication.

To hear the unique songs of two finches, please click here.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Uppsala University, UCLA and more than 20 other institutions collaborated on the analysis, which appears in the journal Nature.

Recognizing the unique relevance of songbirds to human biology and medicine, the National Human Genome Research Institute provided the main support for the sequencing effort.

Much like humans learn speech, songbirds learn their vocalizations -- an ability rare in the animal kingdom. Zebra finches have been domesticated and are easy to rear, making them an accessible subject for scientific study, said David Clayton, a professor of neuroscience and cell and developmental biology at the University of Illinois and leader of the group that proposed and organized the genome sequencing effort.

"There is a real diversity of investigators doing research on the zebra finch," said Clayton, who is also an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology and of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology Illinois. "It is a unique animal model for things like sexual differentiation in the brain, sensitivity to the environment, local communication, speech, learning, steroid responses and social behavior."

One striking outcome of the genome analysis is the discovery that song communication activates large and complex gene regulatory networks in the brain. A 2009 study conducted in Clayton's lab showed that hundreds of genes are switched on or off in the zebra finch brain quickly as the bird learns the sound of a new song. Now, using the new genome sequence, the researchers observe that many of these song-responsive genes do not encode proteins but give rise to "non-coding" RNAs. Among the genes that are suppressed immediately after a zebra finch hears a new song, two-thirds are non-coding RNAs. Non-coding RNAs are believed to interact with protein-coding messenger RNAs (mRNAs) to regulate their stability, intracellular location and translation into proteins.

"When we talk about the genes in a genome, many people still think exclusively in terms of protein-coding genes," Clayton said. "We're not the first to recognize that these non-coding RNAs are important. They've been studied a lot in the context of embryonic development, for example. But certainly this is a surprising observation that these things are also active in the moment-to-moment operation of the brain."

As expected, the finch genome shares certain characteristics with that of the chicken, the only other bird genome sequenced to date. But a comparison of the two also reveals some striking differences. Some families of genes have expanded in the zebra finch, for example, and individual chromosome rearrangements have occurred since the two lineages diverged about 100 million years ago.

The zebra finch genome also is unusual in that it does not appear to fully balance the "dosage" of genes found on the sex chromosome, Z, between males and females. Males have two copies of the Z chromosome, while females carry one Z and one W chromosome. As a result, most genes found on the Z chromosome are expressed at higher levels in male finches than in females. This could explain some of the behavioral differences seen between male and female finches, the researchers suggest.

The analysis also found that some genes related to birdsong have undergone rapid evolution in the finch, suggesting that over evolutionary time these genes contributed to songbird survival and perhaps helped songbirds take over new ecological niches.

The new findings are relevant to an understanding of human vocal communication, Clayton said.

"There is a functional developmental parallel between the way a bird learns to sing and a human learns to speak," he said. "The avian brain is quite different in superficial detail from the mammalian brain or the human brain, but some striking parallels have emerged."

The organizing committee of the zebra finch genome sequencing project also included Research Professor of Genetics Wesley C. Warren of Washington University School of Medicine; Professor in Evolutionary Biology Hans Ellegren of Uppsala University; and Distinguished Professor of Integrative Biology and Physiology Arthur P. Arnold, of UCLA.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Songbird genome sings of the communicating brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100331141423.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2010, March 31). Songbird genome sings of the communicating brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100331141423.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Songbird genome sings of the communicating brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100331141423.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) — Where's a body buried? Buster's nose can often tell you. He's a cadaver dog, specially trained to find human remains and increasingly being used by law enforcement and accepted in courts. These dogs are helping solve even decades-old mysteries. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) — Two white lion cubs, an extremely rare subspecies of the African lion, were recently born at Belgrade Zoo. They are being bottle fed by zoo keepers after they were rejected by their mother after birth. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) — He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goliath Spider Will Give You Nightmares

Goliath Spider Will Give You Nightmares

Buzz60 (Oct. 20, 2014) — An entomologist stumbled upon a South American Goliath Birdeater. With a name like that, you know it's a terrifying creepy crawler. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins