These small birds, which can grow up to 11 centimeters and weigh around 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 are only found in cages in Germany, their wild brethren 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. Therefore, researchers at the Institute for Neuroinformatics at the University of Zurich and the ETH Zurich are examining special areas of their brains using microscopes from Carl Zeiss.
The scientists in Prof. Richard Hahnloser's work group are researching the nerve cells that play a key role in learning to sing. Just like when humans learn to speak, there is a sensitive phase in the learning process with these birds. This all happens very easily without outside help: young zebra finches learn to sing by imitating their fathers or other tutors.
What does Carl Zeiss have to do with this research? Zebra finches are the simplest animal model for researching how speech is learned. Enhanced microscopic examinations of the tiny bird brains can now be easily conducted thanks to the Shuttle & Find solution from Carl Zeiss. For the first time, Shuttle & Find allows researchers to quickly and reliably relocate in a scanning electron microscope structures of biological specimens identified in a light microscope. Furthermore, this solution permits examinations of the highly accurate details in high resolution. It is also possible to precisely overlay images from light and scanning electron microscopes to merge functional and structural information. This allows scientists to very precisely analyze the sought after nerve cells and learn more about our feathered friends.
October 20, 2010