Songbirds are capable of learning their vocalizations by copying a singing adult. This vocal learning ability requires juveniles to hear and memorize the sound of the adult song, and later to imitate it through a process involving sensorimotor integration. Vocal learning is a trait that songbirds share with humans, where it forms the basis of spoken language acquisition, with other avian groups (parrots and hummingbirds), and with a few other mammals (cetaceans, bats). It is however absent in traditional model organisms such as rodents and nonhuman primates. Zebra finches, a songbird species from Australia, are popular pets and are easy to breed. They also sing a relatively simple and stereotyped song that is amenable to quantitative analysis. Zebra finches have thus emerged as a choice model organism for investigating the neurobiological basis of vocal learning. A number of tools and methodologies have been developed to characterize the bioacoustics properties of their song, analyze the degree of accurate copying during vocal learning, map the brain circuits that control singing and song learning, and investigate the physiology of these circuits. Such studies have led to a large base of knowledge on song production and learning, and their underlying neural substrate. Several molecular resources have recently become available, including brain cDNA/EST databases, microarrays, BAC libraries, a molecular brain atlas, a complete genome assembly, and the ability to perform transgenesis. The recent availability of many other avian genomes provides unique opportunities for comparative analysis in the search for features unique to vocal learning organisms.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)