Feb. 3 - The common zebra finch may hold the key to improving the lives of people with speech impediments. Researchers in Denmark are looking closely at the birds' vocalisation anatomy and say there are links between the mechanics of birdsong and human speech that could be exploited for therapeutic purposes. Basmah Fahim has more.
The zebra finch is a songbird found in warmer climates. It lives near the ground and feeds mainly on grass seeds... although, to scientists at the University of Southern Denmark the finch is most interesting for its ability to sing. To help unlock the secrets of the bird's song, the researchers have produced a high resolution 3d model of the finch's vocal organ, the syrinx. They can now see how the bird translates the impulse to communicate, into song. Led by Dr Coen Elemans, the team says the way the birds learn to sing, is similar to how humans learn to speak. (SOUNDBITE)(English) DR COEN ELEMANS, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN DENMARK, SAYING: "We are very interested in how these animals produce their sounds, because we are very interested in how these animals learn their sounds. Zebra finches sing, the males sing and many of the processes are involved in learning to sing are very similar to the processes involved for humans learning speech." While the neural triggers for birdsong have been studied in the past, the anatomy of the complex physical structures that generate sound are less understood. The images show the structure of the syrinx to be similar to that of the human vocal chord. They also illustrate how the vibrating membranes operate at an extremely high speed producing the trill. (SOUNDBITE)(English) DR COEN ELEMANS, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN DENMARK, SAYING: "These birds also babble when they are babies, they actually have these babbling like songs, and then it crystallizes slowly more into adult song. And that is exactly what we see in humans.'' Given the similarities, Elemens says the research could one day lead to treatments for humans with speech impediments. The team will be conducting new experiments with different species but believe the birds have much to tell.