Vernes, S. C., Devanna, P., Hörpel, S. G., Alvarez van Tussenbroek, I., Firzlaff, U., Hagoort, P., Hiller, M., Hoeksema, N., Hughes, G. M., Lavrichenko, K., Mengede, J., Morales, A. E., & Wiesmann, M.
(2022). The pale spear‐nosed bat: A neuromolecular and transgenic model for vocal learning. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1517, 125-142. doi:10.1111/nyas.14884.
Vocal learning, the ability to produce modified vocalizations via learning from acoustic signals, is a key trait in the evolution of speech. While extensively studied in songbirds, mammalian models for vocal learning are rare. Bats present a promising study system given their gregarious natures, small size, and the ability of some species to be maintained in captive colonies. We utilize the pale spear-nosed bat (Phyllostomus discolor) and report advances in establishing this species as a tractable model for understanding vocal learning. We have taken an interdisciplinary approach, aiming to provide an integrated understanding across genomics (Part I), neurobiology (Part II), and transgenics (Part III). In Part I, we generated new, high-quality genome annotations of coding genes and noncoding microRNAs to facilitate functional and evolutionary studies. In Part II, we traced connections between auditory-related brain regions and reported neuroimaging to explore the structure of the brain and gene expression patterns to highlight brain regions. In Part III, we created the first successful transgenic bats by manipulating the expression of FoxP2, a speech-related gene. These interdisciplinary approaches are facilitating a mechanistic and evolutionary understanding of mammalian vocal learning and can also contribute to other areas of investigation that utilize P. discolor or bats as study species.