The tiny brain of this zebra finch may help scientists answer questions on how people form words to talk.Like humans songbirds learn to vocalize by imitation.“We’re able to not only just study the mechanisms of how vocal learning works in these songbirds, but translate those findings to humans.And the reason why is because we discovered that songbirds and humans have what we called convergent brain pathways and genes.That are specialized in them that you don’t find in things like chicken.”
Researchers from Rockefeller University in New York are using laser capture microscopy,a method of isolating cells from microscopic regions of tissues and cells, to get an in-depth look at the songbirds brains.Those images are helping them understand how signals from the birds brains are similar to the process humans use when learning to talk.“We find stuttering in songbirds, we can induce a Parkinson like conditioning then that causes stuttering. And then we can use that to figure out how to repair and then try to induce that in a brain like a human to see if we can repair those circuits.
We’re also trying to figure out ways to engineer brain circuits in a species that doesn’t have that ability,to see if we can induce it or even enhance it. And if that works we can actually try to translate that to humans as well.”Jarvis says it will take years before the findings may be used to treat human speech impediments.“I’ve had this hypothesis for the last ten years of how to engineer these brain circuits and predict what kind of genes, we would find that has specialized in the brain of humans and songbirds. It took us, let’s say five to seven years, so I actually identified those genes.And I think it’s gonna take us another five to seven years to actually figure out how to manipulate them.”
Songbirds could provide a window to the origins of speech disorders caused by autism strokes and Parkinson’s disease.
Deborah Block VOA News.