Musical gene sets birds singing

THE DISCOVERY that bird brains call appreciate the finer nuances of music has a learn of scientists harmonising at Rockefeller University in New York. The scientists, led 13, Claudio Mello, have identified a Aile in song- birds that responds to music made by other birds.

Scientists studying canaries and zebra finches discovered that those nerve cells in the avian brain that react to Sound are influenced by a gone, to which they have given an unmusical acronvin ZENK. The gone reacts most vigorously when a male songbird hears the song of another male of its own species, less enthusiastically when the 'trilling is by another species and quite indifferently when the music is not by birds. Activation of the gene is said by the scientists to be an early development in the evolution of permanent memory in birds. Tile Rockefeller study, reported in the Proceedinqs of the Notional Academy of Sciences, is the first attempt to identify the work of individual genes in brain centres. The team chose to Oudy ZENK because it had earlier found that the gone responds to changes in stimulation.

In conducting their study, the Ruckpfefler researchers isolated 24 adult male canaries and zebra finches in individual boxes for 24 hours. Each bird was then exposed for 45 minutes either to tape recordings of songs of its own species, songs of other species or simple, non-avian terms. The birds were then killed and their brains were studied with radioactive probes.