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Zebra Finch: The Unsung Hero Of Science -

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NARRATION

Meet the Australian Zebra Finch.

Dr Simon Griffith

The Zebra Finch is by far and away the bird that's been most studied in captivity and has probably
contributed to a greater diversity of areas in biology than any other bird at all.

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The Zebra Finch has had a meteoric rise to scientific stardom.

Dr Simon Griffith

Zebra Finches were exported from Australia almost from the point of colonization by Europeans.

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These little guys are so good at breeding that even a scientist can look after them.

Dr Simon Griffith

So this is a perfect example I have just put these sticks in here a couple of days ago and some
straw yesterday and they have laid their first egg.

NARRATION

The Zebra Finch can be found living in the Australian outback... With water and food being scarce,
they make the best of the situation when the rains come. Breeding quickly and developing fast when
the conditions are right. They are a pretty loyal bird generally only finding a new mate if their
partner falls off the perch. Couples look after the chicks together, collect food together and
pretty much spend every hour of the day together

Dr Simon Griffith

Zebra Finches are a really good model for actually understanding things about our own mating system
we can do experiments to understand how social monogamy works in a bird which actually tell us
something about our own pair bond and our own reproductive behaviour.

NARRATION

These Zebra Finch will hone its use of language over the first 60 days of its life.

Dr Simon Griffith

That provides a really good model system for understanding how, how language can be learnt although
it's not exactly the same as the kind of language that we see in humans, it's one of the best
animal models for the acquisition of language. They've actually been able to identify a number of
areas in the brain which are specifically involved in the production of song, it is the nerve
centre for the production of song and individuals with very large vocal centres, produce more
complex songs.

NARRATION

It's great to have a voice... when you are constantly under threat. But it's the songs that these
beautiful birds trill to each other that pushes them to super science status.

Dr Simon Griffith

To date just two bird species have had their genome fully sequenced. The first of those is the
domestic hen,the Zebra Finch is the first wild bird to have its genome sequenced.

NARRATION

Researchers have recently stumbled on a gene that may be important in breeding behaviour.

Dr Simon Griffith

In humans and Zebra Finches, the ratio between your second and fourth digit is very strongly
related to the level of testosterone that you're exposed to during your development. And that will
end up explaining why some males are much better at reproducing than others or why females might
prefer some than others, simply because of this gene which affects the length of the second and the
fourth digit in their feet but more importantly it's related to testosterone which affects pretty
much everything about the way an animal behaves. Around the world the Zebra Finch has been the
focus of around about eight hundred papers and it's also been the focus of thirty papers in Nature
and Science which is the, which are the top leading journals for biology. So it really has had a
tremendous impact across a whole variety of fields.

NARRATION

It is for these insights that the Zebra Finch deserves a profile as a great Aussie scientist.

Topics: Environment, Genetics & DNA

Reporter: Paul Willis

Producer: Holly Trueman

Researcher: Holly Trueman

Camera: Kevin May

Sound: Stephen Ravich

Editor: Chris Spurr

Related Info

Avian Behavioural Ecology

Zebra Finch Biology

Story Contacts

Dr Simon Griffith

Department of Brain, Behaviour and Evoution

Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia