(Sept. 28, 2010)--Todd Troyer, assistant professor of neuroscience in the UTSA Department of Biology and a member of the UTSA Neurosciences Institute, has received a three-year, $400,898 grant from the National Science Foundation's Neural Systems Cluster to continue his research on how birds learn to sing. Troyer's findings will contribute to a better understanding of how the human brain functions during neurological disorders.
Although U.S. universities employ only a handful of songbird researchers, their findings are influencing how the research and clinical communities view neurological disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Parkinson's disease. During OCD, patients are unable to switch off a brain circuit that produces a certain task. Understanding how a songbird's brain controls changes from one musical note to a different note is helping researchers form new hypotheses on how the human brain may get stuck repeating a single behavior.
Songbird researchers also have demonstrated that the basal ganglia circuits behave similarly in human and bird brains. In humans, the basal ganglia long have been known to regulate motor skills and learning. The circuit malfunctions in Parkinson's patients, who have difficulty starting or changing tasks. Songbirds use their basal ganglia during song practice and performance and to regulate song variability.
Troyer has spent a significant amount of time studying zebra finches, which learn to sing by mimicking their fathers. The process takes about three months to fine tune and results in a song unique to each finch. The new funding will allow Troyer to determine how a finch's brain sequences musical notes and how it controls changes from one note to a different note. Ultimately, he will map the bird's active brain cells to corresponding parts of its song.
Troyer also will repeat his research in adult birds. Using Bengalese finches, he will collaborate with University of California, San Francisco electrophysiologist Michael Brainard to record the activity of single brain cells as birds sing. They will analyze the variation in both brain activity and song output. These data then will be used to build computer models of how the brain activity is coordinated as the bird sings.
"It is extremely important to support basic science because we rarely know where the next advance is coming from," said Troyer. "Researchers didn't set out to make a link between song learning and neurological disorders. It's just something that happened after years of fundamental research. Given this type of unpredictability, there is great value in conducting general research. The knowledge it generates will surely help out in ways that are currently unknown."
To learn more about opportunities for graduate students interested in songbird research, contact Todd Troyer at 210-458-5487.
About the UTSA Neurosciences Institute
The UTSA Neurosciences Institute is a multidisciplinary research organization for integrated brain studies. The institute's mission is to foster a collaborative community of scientists committed to studying the biological basis of human experience and behavior, and the origin and treatment of nervous system diseases. Focus areas include nervous system development; neuronal and network computation; sensory, motor and cognitive function; learning and memory and the disease processes that impact them; implementing mathematical and computational tools in experimental neurobiology; and mathematical theory of neurons and nervous systems.
About the UTSA Department of BiologyLed by 48 tenured and tenure-track faculty, the UTSA Department of Biology offers a variety of teaching and research programs including biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, developmental biology, ecology, immunology, microbiology, neurobiology, physiology, plant hormones and gene expression and virology. Its research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, U.S. Forest Service and private foundations, totaling more than $8 million annually.
The annual Center for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CITE) 100K Venture Competition and Exposition will be held on the Main Campus on Dec. 1. Twenty-eight teams from across the university will exhibit their project; six teams will compete for a prize pool of more than $100,000 in funding to launch their new venture / company. More than 650 students have participated in launching new technology ventures.
Biotechnology, Sciences and Engineering (BSE 2.102), Main Campus
This concert features 50 community children performing music in the UTSA Downtown String Project Winter Concert. The children, led by UTSA music students studying to be music teachers, will join together in playing the Theme from Batman at their concert. The Batman of San Antonio, a local celebrity figure, will make an appearance at the concert. This event is free.
Buena Vista Theatre, Downtown Campus
Graduate student uses storytelling to highlight important issues facing children
As touch screens and e-books demand more and more attention from both casual readers and scholars, many people say the handwriting is on the wall for the printed page.
At UTSA, the handwriting is on the wall for a library that doesn't have any printed books.
Since March 2010, the bookless library in the Applied Engineering and Technology Building has given UTSA students an innovative way to read, research and work with each other to solve problems.
With ultra-modern furniture and a décor featuring desktop computers, scanners and LCD screens, the AET Library is designed to engage students in an online format. But it also offers group study niches and study rooms with whiteboards and glass walls on which students can write. The space encourages teamwork, communications and problem solving for the next generation of scientists and professional engineers.
Did you know? The UTSA AET Library is the nation's first completely bookless library on a college or university campus. It served as a model for Bexar County's first-in-the-nation public bookless library system and one of its branches, the Dr. Ricardo Romo BiblioTech.
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
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