Humans aren’t the only animals that can learn new sounds by imitation. Several groups of birds are also capable of vocal learning. And as it turns out, we have more in common with these birds than you might think!
Researchers already knew that the FOXP2 gene, which is active in a part of the songbird’s brain that is involved in vocal learning, is also involved in human language. But recently, researchers at MIT compared activity in the brains of several types of birds capable of vocal learning and human brains (zebra finches, budgerigars, and hummingbirds). And amazingly, it seems that there aren’t just one or two genes that are similar, but 55!
Based on these similarities, it seems that birds could be a great model for the genetics involved in human speech production and speech disorders. It’s interesting to see ways that researchers are learning about humans, thanks to animals! Read more about it here.