Genetic Heritability and Spatiotemporal Transcriptional Mapping of the Vocal Learning Process Using A Minimal Song-Training
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Thierry Lints Proposal# 0951277 Genetic Heritability and Spatiotemporal Transcriptional Mapping of the Vocal Learning Process Using a Minimal Song-training Paradigm The vocal learning process forms the foundation of infant speech development and language. This process is best understood at the molecular and electrophysiological level in songbirds, particularly the zebra finch. During their formative first months, juvenile male zebra finches learn to produce a complex stereotyped song, typically based on their father?s song. Using computer-based training of juvenile zebra finch males to song playbacks, the proposed research sets out to provide a systematic exploration of the opening moments of the vocal imitation process. As a memory of the tutor song model can be acquired during the first training session, the underlying neural events that initiate vocal imitation can be time locked to a single morning of juvenile life. This song training approach may illuminate the fundamental molecular processes that guide developmental learning and constrain it as a consequence of previous experiences or maturational age. Whole-brain 3-dimensional reconstructions of dynamic gene expression patterns will reveal how neuronal activity and experience-dependent neural plasticity rapidly evolve over the first few days of vocal learning. This research serves as an excellent vehicle to train undergraduate and graduate students in the quantitative analysis of behavior, molecular biology, brain image analysis and nervous system structure and function. Moreover, a collaborative effort is ongoing to introduce zebra finches into high school classrooms and develop a web-based virtual learning environment involving live-feeds from birds undergoing training in the lab, providing school students the opportunity to work on real life science problems using quantitative approaches to the acoustic analysis of birdsong.