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Scientists discover how the songbird's brain controls timing during singing
Date:11/8/2010

th the next syllable in the song being sung." Jin explained that the ordered firing of specific sets of neurons can be likened to a musical score. "The sequential bursts of brain-cell activity represent the sequential notes in the same piece of music," he said.

Jin also explained that Darwin's theory of sexual, as opposed to natural, selection could explain the songbird's musical prowess. Sexual selection is the theory that an animal chooses a member of the opposite sex based on some observable feature that signals good health and good genes. The classic example is the male peacock's elaborate and calorically expensive tail, which attracts the female peahen. In male songbirds, an elaborate tail has been replaced by an elaborate song. "A skilled singer will win the attention of more females, and, as such, he will produce more offspring," Jin explained. "It's not that the song itself varies, just the skill with which it's sung. Imagine different pianists playing the same Chopin piece. What sets one apart from the others is his sense of timing and rhythm. In the zebra finch, we found that the timing precision of singing was controlled by bursting properties of individual neurons."

Jin and his colleagues believe that the next step in their research will be to perform similar studies in other species of songbirds, including the Bengalese finch. "The zebra finch is a simple model because the bird perfects just one song during its lifetime," Jin explained. "However, other species learn several distinct songs. They have a larger repertoire."


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Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert  

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