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Birdsong & Language Genes

December 22, 2014

Birds and humans share remarkable similarities in the expression of genes involved in vocal communication in the brain.



Mickael DIA Bluethroat Flickr

A male bluethroat sings. (Mickael DIA/flickr)

Singing in the genes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When it comes to vocal communication, we have more in common with birds than any other kind of animal, including other primates – – from the way babies learn to talk the complexity of our vocalizations. Now, researchers have found that this is due to similar gene activity in the brain. Duke neuroscientist Erich Jarvis and his team compared gene expression in the brains of birds and humans.

ERICH JARVIS (Duke University):

We found 55 genes that are shared in increased or decreased synthesis in the brain areas for speech in humans and the brain areas for song learning in parrots, hummingbirds and songbirds. What’s remarkable to me is that it’s s not just one gene, two or even five genes. It’s tens of genes that show convergence, which suggests that there’s type of limited way in which nature has to evolve the complex circuit for speech.


The research appears in Science magazine. The I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.