Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Flies can tell us about the Origin of Language

26.06.2014

Scientists have discovered a crucial component of the origin of language – in fruit flies. A team at Universität Regensburg in collaboration with researchers from Berlin, Jena and Columbia, Missouri in the US studied the fruit fly version of a gene involved in human language, FOXP2, and found that it is necessary for learning movements in flies as well.

“Speaking any language requires proper articulation of the different sounds,” says Björn Brembs, Professor of Neurogenetics at Universität Regensburg, who coordinated the collaboration.


Photograph of Drosophila

“To accomplish this feat, muscles in the lips, tongue and larynx need to work perfectly together. As toddlers, we acquire these skills by babbling until what we utter matches what we want to say,” adds Constance Scharff who has shown the relevance of FoxP for song learning in birds at the Freie Universität Berlin.

“Young songbirds try out different variants of sounds similarly to how infants babble”. Brembs and Scharff’s groups teamed up to study the role of FoxP in flies.

The researchers studied flies with genetically engineered FoxP in a learning experiment that comes as close to vocal learning as possible in a non-vocal animal. Similarly to infants and birds, the flies had to try out different movements with their flight muscles to learn where to fly and where not to fly.

Using a heat beam, the experimenters trained the flies to avoid flying towards one direction, forcing the fly to try different steering maneuvers. Flies with compromised FoxP genes failed in this task, while control flies did well. Importantly, the FoxP manipulated flies had no problem learning to avoid a particular direction when this was coupled to a color. The specificity of this deficit is also typical for patients with FOXP2 mutations.

“Also in line with the known function of FoxP in humans and birds is the observation that the morphology of certain sub-regions of the mutant flies’ brains is altered. This indicates that FoxP might regulate the expression of other genes during brain development,” says Jürgen Rybak from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, who performed the morphological measurements of the fly brains.

These discoveries suggest that one of the roots of language can be placed 500 million years ago at the split between vertebrates and invertebrates, to an ancestor which had evolved the ability to learn by trial and error. From this, Troy Zars of the University of Missouri, Columbia concludes, “The identification of this phenotype in FoxP mutant flies provides a starting point in understanding the genes involved in trial-and-error-based learning and communication across species, and should help in understanding how genetic bases of communication deficits arise in humans." Zars had discovered the FoxP gene in the fly genome in 2007.

“Presumably, the ability to learn from trial and error was harnessed when vocal learning in vertebrates and language acquisition in humans evolved,” Brembs surmises. The conservation of these functions opens the window for basic research into the genetic mechanisms underlying complex traits such as language or schizophrenia in animals that do not exhibit these traits – especially in genetically very accessible invertebrates such as Drosophila.

Further information:
http://brembs.net

Press Contact
Prof. Dr. Björn Brembs
Universität Regensburg
Institute for Zoology
Tel.: 0049 (0)941 943-3117
Bjoern.Brembs@ur.de

Alexander Schlaak | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
http://www.uni-regensburg.de/

Further reports about: ability flies fly genes genetically humans infants muscles sounds traits vertebrates vocal

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Individual Receptors Caught at Work
19.10.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Rapid environmental change makes species more vulnerable to extinction
19.10.2017 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Electrode materials from the microwave oven

19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

New material for digital memories of the future

19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods

19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>