“We discovered that the European starling (found throughout Eurasia and North-America) and the zebrafinch (found in Australia and Indonesia) control their songs with the fastest-contracting muscle type yet described,” says Coen Elemans, who conducted the study as a postdoctoral researcher in biology at the University of Utah.
Elemans and his colleagues are publishing their findings in the Wednesday, July 9, edition of the Public Library of Science’s online journal PLoS ONE.
“Superfast muscles were previously known only from the sound-producing organs of rattlesnakes, several fish and the ringdove,” Elemans says. “We now have shown that songbirds also evolved this extreme performance muscle type, suggesting these muscles – once thought extraordinary – are more common than previously believed.”
While the study examined two species of songbirds, “it is very likely that all songbirds have these muscles,” he adds.
Elemans, the study’s first author, now is a postdoctoral researcher in biology at the University of Southern Denmark. He conducted the study with Franz Goller, a University of Utah associate professor of biology; and two University of Pennsylvania scientists: Andrew Mead, a doctoral student, and Lawrence Rome, a professor of biology.
“Songbirds use complex song to communicate with one another,” Elemans says. “Many species are able to change the volume and-or frequency of their song faster than ordinary vertebrate muscles are able to contract.”
To conduct the study, the biologists measured vocal muscle activity in freely singing birds and made laboratory measurements of isolated muscles.
They found the zebrafinch and European starling can contract and relax their vocal muscles in 3 to 4 milliseconds, or three-thousandths to four-thousandths of a second, which is 100 times faster than the 300 milliseconds to 400 milliseconds (three-tenths to four-tenths of a second) it takes for humans to blink an eye, Elemans says.
The birds’ vocal muscles move structures analogous to “vocal folds” in humans. The muscles change the position and stiffness of these folds to alter the volume and frequency of the sound.
Superfast muscles can produce mechanical work or power at more than 100 hertz (times per second) and these superfast vocal muscles at up to 250 hertz, which means the birds can turn elements of their song on and off 250 times per second, Elemans says.
These frequencies are known as “modulation frequencies” that are imposed on the sound to control or modulate the volume and frequency of the bird’s song.
“By having these extraordinary muscles, birds have a more precise control of their voice and can actively change the volume and frequency of their song faster than previously thought physically possible,” Elemans says.Contacts:
Lee Siegel | Newswise Science News
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy