A group of researchers from the University of Southwest Texas claims to have been able to bring “memories” into the brain of a finch species, teaching them a song they have never heard before. In particular, they have performed this technique on mandarin diamonds, which are widespread especially in Australia.
The singing of these birds is a vocal ability that is transmitted from father to son: in fact, fathers usually sing their melodies to the chicks, and soon they start to imitate them. However, the researchers have given good thought to directly manipulating the brains of chicks of this bird species without parental intervention.
They used optogenetics, a technique of the latest generation in which light flashes are used to stimulate certain areas of the brain and certain groups of neurons. They have focused on a particular area of the brain of these chicks that handles what the animal hears.
Using a kind of Morse code, the researchers were able to teach finches how long the different parts of the melody should last, and eventually the chicks, when they grew up, really learned to sing a song they had never heard before.
However, this is a very simple song compared to the songs that these birds usually sing when they become adults, and for this reason the same researchers admit that they have not taught birds everything they need to know about singing, and because they have focused on only two specific areas of the brain when much more needs to be involved.
Therefore, the researchers want to discover these other brain ways to teach young birds to sing their own songs without the intervention of their parents.
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