Zebra finch


Did You Know…

…how Zebra Finches Learn To Sing?

These small birds, which grow up to 11 centimeters long and weigh a scant 20 grams, can be easily recognized by their bright red beaks – the males sport the typical zebra pattern on their breast for which they are named. While zebra finches can only be found in cages in Germany, their wild cousins are at home in Australia. However, they do share one very well known characteristic: they are talented singers and learn their song from older birds. That’s right – they have to learn to sing! This is why researchers at the Institute for Neuroinformatics (University of Zurich and ETH Zurich) are examining special areas of their brains using ZEISS microscopes.

The scientists in Prof. Richard Hahnloser’s work group are researching the songbird’s nerve cells that play a key role in their learning to sing. As in the process of speech acquisition in humans, there is a critical phase in the learning process for these birds. It all happens very simply, but not without outside help: A young zebra finch learns to sing by imitating its father or another tutor.

So what does ZEISS have to do with this research? Zebra finches are the simplest animal model for studying vocal learning and are therefore a prime subject for brain research. Enhanced microscopic examinations of the tiny, delicate brains of these birds can now be conducted with ease thanks to the "Shuttle & Find" solution by ZEISS. "For the first time, Shuttle & Find" is enabling researchers to find structures of biological specimens identified with a light microscope quickly, reliably and repeatedly in a scanning electron microscope. Moreover, this solution facilitates the examination of specimens with extremely high-resolution accuracy and detail. It is also possible to overlay images from light and scanning electron microscopes precisely in order to collate functional and structural information. This allows scientists to analyze the targeted nerve cells very accurately and to learn more about our feathered friends.

19 October 2010