Sonja Vernes -
Many species of mammal, including our primate cousins, have limited vocal repertoires. But a few mammals such as bats, whales and elephants use complex and varied vocalizations that share some characteristics with human speech such as the ability to learn vocalizations from other members of their social group.
Currently almost nothing is known about the genetic basis for these sophisticated vocal behaviours in other mammals. Studying such species could provide clues about how human language evolved, and how language abilities are encoded in the human genome.
We use cutting-edge molecular techniques to identify genes that are important for vocal communication in non-human mammals. To find out if these genes are also involved in human speech and language, we investigate the function of these genes in human cells to look for relationships between genetic variation and language ability in human populations.
More information about the Neurogenetics of Vocal Communication group can be found here.