How fish talk — and how we do


Linking two TEDTalks fascinations — language and fish — is this report from today’s Science. While studying midshipman fish that grunt and hum, two neurobiologists have found the basic brain wiring that, they think, evolved into human speech. It points to a common ancestor among all of us vertebrates who vocalize. From Science Now:

Andrew Bass, a neurobiologist at Cornell University, has been studying the midshipman’s vocal habits for more than a decade. Recently, he and two colleagues mapped out the neural circuitry that controls the fish’s soundmaking. They found that a set of rhythmically firing neurons control the fish’s vocal muscles and the pitch and duration of its calls. And by tracking the brain development of larval fish, they discovered that the neurons grow at the base of the hindbrain and the upper part of the spinal cord.

That vocal circuitry is remarkably similar in location and function to brain structures found in other vertebrates that vocalize, including birds, amphibians, and mammals, Bass and his colleagues report in tomorrow’s issue of Science. The similarity suggests that the vocal structure originally evolved in the common ancestor of modern vertebrates, the authors write, and then spread far and wide.

Read the full story on Science Now — and hear the sound of the midshipman fish in a video narrated by Andrew Bass. Or see the BBC story, with even more video >>