Monday, 13 August 2012

Of Mice and Melodies: Research On Language Gene Seeks to Uncover the Origins of the Singing Mouse

ScienceDaily (Aug. 10, 2012) — Singing mice (scotinomys teguina) are not your average lab rats. Their fur is tawny brown instead of the common white albino strain; they hail from the tropical cloud forests in the mountains of Costa Rica; and, as their name hints, they use song to communicate.

University of Texas at Austin researcher Steven Phelps is examining these unconventional rodents to gain insights into the genes that contribute to the unique singing behavior -- information that could help scientists understand and identify genes that affect language in humans.

"We can choose any number of traits to study but we try and choose traits that are not only interesting for their own sake but also have some biomedical relevance," said Phelps. "We take advantage of the unique property of the species."

The song of the singing mouse song is a rapid-fire string of high-pitched chirps called trills used mostly used by males in dominance displays and to attract mates. Up to 20 chirps are squeaked out per second, sounding similar to birdsong to untrained ears. But unlike birds, the mice generally stick to a song made up of only a single note.

"They sound kind of soft to human ears, but if you slow them down by about three-fold they are pretty dramatic," said Phelps.

Continued:
  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120810193755.htm

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