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 World’s Largest Study on Allergic Rhinitis Reveals new Risk Genes
17.07.2018 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Plant mothers talk to their embryos via the hormone auxin
17.07.2018 | Institute of Science and Technology Austria

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microscopic trampoline may help create networks of quantum computers

17.07.2018 | Information Technology

In borophene, boundaries are no barrier

17.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

The role of Sodium for the Enhancement of Solar Cells

17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>