Dr. Sonja Vernes awarded UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship to study bats

24 April 2020
The MPI is proud and happy to announce that Dr. Sonja Vernes has been awarded a £1.5 million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship. The award has been granted to study vocal learning in bats as a model for human speech and language evolution at the University of St Andrews.

Future Leaders Fellowships support researchers and innovators with outstanding potential to enable fellows to tackle ambitious and challenging research programs across all disciplines.

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, said: “The Future Leaders Fellowships are UKRI’s flagship talent programme, designed to foster and nurture the research and innovation leaders of the future.

Kirsty Grainger, Director of the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships, said: “The Future Leaders Fellows represent some of the most brilliant people working in the country. We’re supporting researchers from every background – from the arts to medicine, and the social sciences to engineering – helping them become the research and innovation leaders of the future.”

Sonja Vernes is group leader of the Max Planck Research Group Neurogenetics of Vocal Communication. Her research group focuses on the study of vocal communication in bats as a way to understand the biological bases of human speech and language and how this trait evolved.
"Bats present a unique opportunity to shed light on the biology of speech relevant traits because they are an extraordinary group of animals with intricate social structures and communication abilities. Bats also have the ability to learn new vocalisations, a crucial component of how we learn to speak.
My goal is to use bat models to understand the biological encoding of social-vocal communication abilities and compare these findings with other mammals including humans, to shed light on mechanisms by which human language evolved."

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