Developing Molecular Tools for Interrogating a Vocal Learning Avian Species

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2020

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Abstract

The zebra finch, an Australian songbird, is a uniquely powerful model organism for the study of vocal production learning, and its song system shares behavioral, anatomical, and genetic properties with the human spoken language circuit. However, research in zebra finches are disadvantaged by the lack of proper tools and techniques for tractable investigation of the molecular underpinnings of vocal learning. Here, I worked to close the gap in three areas. First, I induced a continuous zebra finch cell line capable of monoclonal cell line generation for in vitro characterization and testing in zebra finch cells. Second, I utilized advanced methods to improve the descriptive cellular resolution of several genes with specialized expression in the song system that are convergent with humans and I tested genome editing tools in vivo to demonstrate the potential for their gene ablation in the zebra finch. Third, I modified transgenic techniques used in poultry toward the more efficient and versatile generation of transgenic songbirds. Finally, I used an in situ hybridization method I modified on the NR4A2 gene to validate avian brain organization hypothesis of Jarvis et al., 2013. This work provides new avenues for exploring avian biology and progress towards a more genetically tractable model system for songbird neuroscience.

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Biegler, Matthew Theodor (2020). Developing Molecular Tools for Interrogating a Vocal Learning Avian Species. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/21041.

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