October 2, 2009

Zebra finch DNA altered for neuron studies

Altering the DNA of a zebra finch could reveal the process of vocal learning in vertebrate brains, scientists at New York's Rockefeller University say.

The zebra finch is one of several of its species that learn to speak by imitating other zebra finches, said Fernando Nottebohm, who heads the Laboratory of Animal Behavior at Rockefeller University.

By manipulating the genes of zebra finches, Nottebohm and his team hope to learn more about the neural circuitry that allows songbirds to learn to sing, the university said in a release Thursday. The study also may reveal how, why and when neurons are replaced in the adult brain, Nottebohm said.

Nottebohm's team injected finch embryos with genes that produce green fluorescent protein in cells throughout the body. Those birds passed the glowing genes along to their offspring, giving scientists a way to trace neural circuitry in the zebra finches.

Ultimately, you have to understand how things are working at the most basic molecular level, and this will take our research there.