Speech Genes in Songbirds Almost Identical to Humans


Happy National DNA Day everyone!

To celebrate I will share a very fun fact: they sequenced the bird genome a few years ago and found that the genes responsible for speech in song birds are almost identical to the genes that control the speech in humans.

Now if you are like me and thought that was crazy buckle up because it’s about to get really crazy; the speech genes of songbirds are closer to humans than they are to other birds!!!

Once I recovered from that knowledge bomb, I realized this makes perfect sense. One thing that sets humans apart from most other animals is our ability to hear sounds and imitate them vocally. This ability is what allowed humans to develop such diverse and specific language. I never spent much time thinking about that previously but now I can’t help fixating on how neat that is!

Apes, for example, have proven to be remarkably similar to humans, (learning sign language, written language, and even having blood types) yet they can’t speak like humans. It logically follows there would be a genetic component that played a factor and it turns out the speech genes in songbirds more closely resemble humans than those same genes in apes!

Songbirds share our unique vocal skills as evidenced not only by their ability to repeat a limited number of human words, but also a wide array of sounds including crying babies, construction work, camera shutters, and car alarms.

Next time you see a songbird, remember that portions of their DNA are just like yours!

Bonus fact: Ravens are songbirds.



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