Australian Zebra Finch Genome Sequenced

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., March 31 (UPI) — A U.S.-led international team of scientists from more than 20 institutions says it has sequenced the genome of the Australian zebra finch songbird.

The accomplishment is providing clues to the mechanisms and evolution of vocal communication, officials said.


The scientists said the Australian zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) weighs less than half an ounce, mates for life and, unlike most vocalizing animals, learns its songs from its elders.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Illinois, Sweden’s Uppsala University, UCLA and more than 20 other institutions collaborated on the analysis, mainly funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Md.

University of Illinois Professor David Clayton, who organized the genome sequencing effort, said much like humans learn speech, songbirds learn their vocalizations — an ability rare in the animal kingdom.

“There is a real diversity of investigators doing research on the zebra finch,” Clayton said. “It is a unique animal model for things like sexual differentiation in the brain, sensitivity to the environment, local communication, speech, learning, steroid responses and social behavior.”

The analysis of the genome, the first for a songbird, is reported in the journal Nature.

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