Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Darwin's Finch and the Evolution of Smell

06.04.2010
Weizmann Institute researchers who helped decipher the zebra finch genome have found hints that the birds' sense of smell may have evolved independently.

Sequenced zebra finch genome hints that smell may play a role in the birds' communication

Darwin's finches - some 14 related species of songbirds found on the Galapagos and Cocos Islands - will forever be enshrined in history for having planted the seeds of the theory of evolution through natural selection. Today, exactly 150 years after Darwin's famous book, finches can still teach us a lesson about evolution.

A large, international group of researchers, among them Prof. Doron Lancet and Dr. Tsviya Olender of the Weizmann Institute's Molecular Genetics Department, recently produced the full genome of the zebra finch and analyzed it in detail. The report of the zebra finch genome, which appeared April 6 in Nature, is especially significant for what it reveals about the learning processes of language and speech. For Lancet and Olender, however, the findings have provided an interesting twist on the evolution of the sense of smell.

Song birds - like humans and a small number of other animals - are capable of complex, rich communication through sounds. The similarity between bird song and human language makes birds a useful scientific model for probing how this ability developed, what neuronal mechanisms are required, and which genes encode them. Significantly, the scientific team found that a large percentage of the genes expressed in the finch brain are devoted to vocal communication. They also found that the expression levels of a number of genes, specifically those belonging to the important class of micro-RNAs, change after the bird is exposed to song. This implies that such genes might be involved in the birds' ability to learn new tunes.

'The senses are sophisticated means of interacting with the environment, and this is why they are so fascinating. In our lab, we are primarily interested in smell,' says Olender, who joined the project along with Lancet in order to map the genes encoding smell receptors in the finch. In doing so, they were entering the fray on a long-standing debate over whether odor sensation is active and important for birds. Some positive evidence exists: Homing pigeons have been shown to use smell to help them navigate back to their coops. In contrast, a computer-aided analysis of the chicken genome had shown that out of 500 genes encoding smell receptors, a mere 70 produce active proteins. Lancet and Olender have now conducted a similar analysis of the zebra finch genome. Their findings revealed that while the finch has the same total number of smell genes, it possesses three times as many that are active: Around 200 of the finch's genes can potentially produce functional smell receptors. This figure supports the claim that some birds do rely on the sense of smell.

A comparison of the zebra finch genome to those of other bird species sheds some light on how this sense evolved in the birds: Unlike mammals, in which all the different species share most of their smell receptor gene families, 95% of the receptors in the finches appeared to belong to families unique to them. In other words, it is possible that each bird species evolved its own array of smell receptors separately, rather than using ones passed down from a common ancestor. Lancet: 'This finding suggests that smells may be involved in the unique communications among individuals within the species, on top of the messages they send through their songs.'

Prof. Doron Lancet's research is supported by the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Molecular Design and the estate of Joe Gurwin. Prof. Lancet is the incumbent of the Ralph and Lois Silver Professorial Chair in Human Genomics.

Yivsam Azgad | idw
Further information:
http://www.weizmann.ac.il/
http://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il/site/en/weizman.asp?pi=371&doc_id=6104

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New application for acoustics helps estimate marine life populations
16.01.2018 | University of California - San Diego

nachricht Unexpected environmental source of methane discovered
16.01.2018 | University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

Im Focus: A thermometer for the oceans

Measurement of noble gases in Antarctic ice cores

The oceans are the largest global heat reservoir. As a result of man-made global warming, the temperature in the global climate system increases; around 90% of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

White graphene makes ceramics multifunctional

16.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

Breaking bad metals with neutrons

16.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

ISFH-CalTeC is “designated test centre” for the confirmation of solar cell world records

16.01.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>