The Frontal Cortex

Birds and FoxP2

One of the more fascinating bits of research I couldn’t cram into my recent article on the bird brain concerned some work out Erich Jarvis’ lab. In 2004, Jarvis and colleagues found that songbirds have a nearly identical version of a gene known as FoxP2 that has been linked to inherited language deficits in humans. (People with mutated versions of FoxP2 have normal motor coordination, but are unable to form grammatical sentences or understand complex linguistic structures.) Jarvis discovered that this gene is expressed at higher levels in the bird brain precisely when the bird is learning new songs, suggesting that versions of FoxP2 act as a crucial switch for vocal learning in both birds and humans.

Just thought it was a cool finding. Natural selection really is a “backwoods mechanics and used-parts dealer.”


  1. #1 Terry McDermott
    September 18, 2007

    where’s the backwoods quote from?

  2. #2 Natasha
    September 19, 2007

    I was wondering where does the FoxP2 story stand now? When I reviewed a long time ago it was still relatively controversial. The question being whether it affected language alone, completely excluding other cognitive abilities. Also, off course, quite a bit of criticism centered around calling it the language gene.

    That said, this does sound pretty interesting.

  3. #3 Jonah
    September 20, 2007

    That quote about backwoods mechanics comes from William Wimsatt’s great collection of essays, “Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings”. (Harvard Press, 1999) I’m sorry I didn’t include a link.

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