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 Hygiene at your fingertips with the new CleanHand Network
25.09.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Organische Elektronik, Elektronenstrahl- und Plasmatechnik FEP

nachricht Scientists discovered 20 new gnat species in Brazil
24.09.2018 | Estonian Research Council

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 present new observations to understand the phase transition in quantum chromodynamics

The building blocks of matter in our universe were formed in the first 10 microseconds of its existence, according to the currently accepted scientific picture. After the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago, matter consisted mainly of quarks and gluons, two types of elementary particles whose interactions are governed by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interaction. In the early universe, these particles moved (nearly) freely in a quark-gluon plasma.

This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.

Then, in a phase transition, they combined and formed hadrons, among them the building blocks of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons. In the current issue of...

Im Focus: Patented nanostructure for solar cells: Rough optics, smooth surface

Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.

"It is not enough simply to bring more light into the cell," says Christiane Becker. Such surface structures can even ultimately reduce the efficiency by...

Im Focus: New soft coral species discovered in Panama

A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.

Scientists established the new species, Thesea dalioi, by comparing its physical traits, such as branch thickness and the bright red colony color, with the...

Im Focus: New devices based on rust could reduce excess heat in computers

Physicists explore long-distance information transmission in antiferromagnetic iron oxide

Scientists have succeeded in observing the first long-distance transfer of information in a magnetic group of materials known as antiferromagnets.

Im Focus: Finding Nemo's genes

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome, providing the research community with an invaluable resource to decode the response of fish to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

"Boston calling": TU Berlin and the Weizenbaum Institute organize a conference in USA

21.09.2018 | Event News

One of the world’s most prominent strategic forums for global health held in Berlin in October 2018

03.09.2018 | Event News

4th Intelligent Materials - European Symposium on Intelligent Materials

27.08.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Matter falling into a black hole at 30 percent of the speed of light

24.09.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA balloon mission captures electric blue clouds

24.09.2018 | Earth Sciences

New way to target advanced breast cancers

24.09.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>