Zebra Finch to Lend Insight into Stuttering and Parkinson’s
Meet the Zebra finch, whose genetic code is the second, after the chicken, to have been sequenced. Scientists at the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois and 25 other institutions conducted the research, being published in the journal Nature wherein they constructed a common-ancestor genetic-sequence between the two animals and then looked at the discrepancies between the finch and the other fowl, as is explained in the BBC article. Now they plan on comparing it to people with genetic disorders, like stuttering (which has already been found to be a genetic expression) and Parkinson’s, NPR reports. But it all started with a song.
Unlike the chicken, whose clucks are its only vocal expression, the Zebra finch spends its infancy in a state of sound learning which has been likened to babies learning to speak. When they mature vocally and physically, they learn a distinct song as taught to them, typically, by their father. Seems like a good place to start looking through some genomes, huh?
Propping up the DNA of the Zebra finch back beside the chicken, they looked at the differences, but particularly, which genes were activated in song learning. They found more than 800. Comparing the DNA of young finches to that of older finches, they found that these genes turn on and off as the bird learns the song.
But poor little finchy, you may be stuttering soon, if Dr. Story Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, has her way – she wants to activate a gene mutation found in stuttering Pakistani families in the finch. She’s hoping it gives the birdie a stutter (and not Banshee’s siren scream), at which point they can work at reversing the mutation and deactivating the debilitating disorder – in finches and in people. We may be a while away from making those changes – Dr. Wesley Warren, speaking of the Zebra finch, had this to say: “We talk about the whole genome being engaged in the vocal learning process.” That’s a lot of mapping still left to do, no?