Roots of language in human and bird biology

Feb 14, 2013

The genes activated for human speech are similar to the ones used by singing songbirds, new experiments suggest.

These results, which are not yet published, show that gene products produced for speech in the cortical and basal ganglia regions of the human brain correspond to similar molecules in the areas of the brains of and budgerigars. But these molecules aren't found in the brains of doves and quails—vocal birds that do not learn their sounds.

"The results suggest that similar behavior and neural connectivity for a convergent complex trait like speech and song are associated with many similar genetic changes," said Duke Erich Jarvis, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

Jarvis studies the that songbirds use while learning to sing. In past experiments, he and his collaborators found that songbirds have a connection between the front part of their brain and nerves in the brainstem that control movement in muscles that make songs in birds. They've seen this circuit in a more primitive form related to ultrasonic mating calls in mice. Humans also have this motor learning pathway for speech.

From this and other work, Jarvis developed the motor theory for the origin of vocal learning, which describes how ancient brain systems used to control movement and motor learning evolved into for learning and producing song and spoken language.

Explore further: Breakthrough in coccidiosis research

More information: PLOS ONE. 7(10):e46610. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046610

Related Stories

Bird brains suggest how vocal learning evolved

Mar 12, 2008

Though they perch far apart on the avian family tree, birds with the ability to learn songs use similar brain structures to sing their tunes. Neurobiologists at Duke University Medical Center now have an explanation for this ...

Brain study: Singing mice show signs of learning

Oct 10, 2012

Guys who imitate Luciano Pavarotti or Justin Bieber to get the girls aren't alone. Male mice may do a similar trick, matching the pitch of other males' ultrasonic serenades. The mice also have certain brain ...

Songbirds shed light on brain circuits and learning

Sep 17, 2012

By studying how birds master songs used in courtship, scientists at Duke University have found that regions of the brain involved in planning and controlling complex vocal sequences may also be necessary ...

Recommended for you

Breakthrough in coccidiosis research

Jul 28, 2014

Biological researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are a step closer to finding a new cost-effective vaccine for the intestinal disease, coccidiosis, which can have devastating effects on poultry ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tausch
1 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2013
But these molecules aren't found in the brains of doves and quails—vocal birds that do not learn their sounds. - authors?


Hearts don't learn their sounds either.
Tell us what those birds do.