These basic functions often work about the same in people as they do in “model” animals. But if you want to study more sophisticated cognitive processes such as humans’ ability to learn language from one another, you need a more sophisticated organism. For the first time, researchers have devised a way to alter the genes of the zebra finch, one of a handful of social animals that learn to “speak” by imitating their fellows.
After decades of studying the behavior and anatomy of vocal learning, scientists will be able to use the technique to explore vocal learning at the molecular level. The new tool, reported online in the September 28 issue of PNAS Early Edition, may also reveal secrets about exactly how, when and why some neurons are replaced in the adult brain.
“The roadblock had been that you couldn’t manipulate the genes,” says Fernando Nottebohm, Dorothea L. Leonhardt Professor and head of the Laboratory of Animal Behavior at The Rockefeller University, where the research was conducted. “Ultimately, you have to understand how things are working at the most basic molecular level, and this will take our research there.”
Nottebohm, Research Associate Robert Agate and colleagues adapted a method used to alter quail genes for use in the finch. The researchers used an HIV-based lentivirus that is able to insert attached genes into the genome of the hosts it infects. To prove the method works, the scientists inserted genes that produce green fluorescent protein in cells throughout the body. They found that they had to inject at least 10 times as much of the viral vector into finch embryos than in quail for the genes to take root. But after refining the method, they produced several birds that had incorporated the genes into their germline cells, meaning they could pass them along to their offspring. These “founder” transgenic songbirds did not suffer any obvious side effects from the genetic experiment: They developed normally, learned to sing, and mated. But because of the fluorescent protein produced throughout their bodies, they glow green when exposed to a specific wavelength of blue light. The green can be best seen before the hatchlings’ feathers grow in, but can still be glimpsed in the eyes, legs and around the beaks of the older, feathered birds.
The transgenic songbirds will enable Nottebohm, who discovered neuronal replacement in the adult vertebrate brain and described the neural circuitry by which songbirds learn to sing, to investigate the genes that control these processes. “With transgenic songbirds, we hope to have a splendid tool to get into the molecular biology of vocal learning and neuronal replacement in an adult vertebrate brain,” Nottebohm says.
Brett Norman | Newswise Science News
Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds
26.05.2017 | Cornell University
How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system
26.05.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy