Scientists implant false memories in brain of a bird
Scientists have managed to create false memories by manipulating neural cells of zebra finches.
While trying to understand how we learn to speak, scientists have been able to manipulate the song memories of young zebra finches and create false memories of courtship songs that the birds otherwise learn from their elder ones.
The scientists used zebra finches because they share a common vocal development stage with humans. This research, published in Science, will help understand how animals, including humans, learn to speak.
How do birds or humans learn to speak?
Birds learn to speak by listening to their parents and imitating and memorising the notes. This becomes a habit after they have practiced it for thousands of times.
During the new study, scientists used light to alter activities in the neural cells that were genetically engineered to be sensitive to illumination in a selected group of birds.
With this they created in them false memories of songs, which they otherwise learn from the parent. Such birds eventually sang a different song compared to normal birds.
How can it help?
The study can help in understanding problems, diseases that are related to speech and language in humans.The knowledge of these is going to help target specific genes that get disrupted after a disease like autism.
“It has been hard to study these kinds of memories in the lab because we haven’t known where they’re encoded,” said Dr. Todd Roberts, a neuroscientist with UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute..
“We’re not teaching the bird everything it needs to know – just the duration of syllables in its song,” Dr. Roberts said. “The two brain regions we tested in this study represent just one piece of the puzzle.”
How important it might be for us?
The research also opens new branch of research that will help us in identifying brain circuits that influence speech and other aspects (pitch and order) of vocalisation.
Dr Roberts said that once the pathways are figured out, they can hypothetically teach a bird to sing its song without any interaction from its father. “But we’re a long way from being able to do that,” he said.
“This is the first time we have confirmed brain regions that encode behavioral-goal memories – those memories that guide us when we want to imitate anything from speech to learning the piano,” he said