The team found that flies with a compromised FoxP gene failed in the task, while flies with the uncompromised gene did well and learned their movements. This learning deficit is conceptually similar to human patients with FoxP mutations, where communication is altered. Subsequent tests revealed a change in the structural makeup of the flies' brains indicating that operant learning depends on the function of this gene to develop normally.
These discoveries suggest that one of the roots of language can be placed 500 million years ago to an ancestor who had evolved the ability to learn by trial and error, the team said.
"Identification of this characteristic in flies provides a starting point in understanding the genes involved in trial-and-error-based learning and communication across species," Zars said. "These findings should help in understanding how genetic bases of communication deficits arise in humans."
The study, "Drosophila FoxP mutants are deficient in operant self-learning," was published in PLOS One.
|Contact: Jesslyn Chew|
University of Missouri-Columbia