Jarvis is being honored as an innovator in neuroscience, specifically for his comparative studies using songbirds, other bird and mammal species, and humans to get at the mystery of how language is learned.
"I have come to the conclusion that the brain pathways involved in the singing of songbirds have functional similarities to the pathways involved with speech in humans," Jarvis said.
His approach to research has defied convention. "I thought that in this brain pathway for singing in birds, that the first thing we would find are key mechanisms of learned behavior at the molecular level for genes that control the behavior," he said. "What we instead found is how the behavior regulates the genes themselves."
Jarvis now plans to test two theories about what the genes do. His lab will try to learn whether the genes simply maintain the cell structure and connectivity of the neurons in the brain, so later when the bird produces a learned song or we humans speak, the circuit remains intact. Alternately, the lab will try to learn whether the genes are being used to modify connections in the brain so that we can learn, through repetition, how to sing better or speak better.
Creative endeavors have appealed to Jarvis his whole life. He was invited to audition for the prestigious Alvin Ailey Dance Theater when he was graduating from the High School of the Performing Arts in New York City. He ultimately decided that his contributions through science might be more rewarding.
He went on to earn a B.A. in biology and mathematics from the City University of New York, Hunter College, and his Ph.D. in neurobiology and animal behavior from the Rockefeller University. He is the recipient of one of the highest awards given by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the N
|Contact: Mary Jane Gore|
Duke University Medical Center