Syrinx's biomechanics in songbirds with in vivo high-speed 2D tomograms (PSI)

The generation of speech in humans involves the modulation of the vocal cords in the larynx. Similarly, birds vocalize by modifying the membranes in the syrinx by muscular contraction. While the anatomy of the syrinx is well understood (Düring et al., 2013), the biomechanics of the multiple syringeal muscles during song generation are less clear (Düring & Elemans, 2016).
We are studying how the syringeal muscles function by performing chronic in vivo high-speed 2D radiographic projections (1000 fps). This is a new cutting-edge, non-invasive imaging technique that uses synchrotron light (an intense X-ray beam) generated at the Swiss Light Source (a circular electron accelerator), part of the Paul Scherrer Institute at Villigen.

Available project
We recorded the activation of the syringeal muscles in anesthetized zebra finches while they are listening to their own songs. The activation of these muscles during playback of the bird’s own song (BOS) resemble the same motor program that unfolds during singing (Williams & Nottebohm, 1985)(Dave & Margoliash, 2000)(Bolhuis et al., 2012). We aim at understanding how the syrinx’s superfast muscles coordinate their activity to generate specific syllables and songs. We offer Semester and MSc projects to analyze the 2D videos (HDF5 format) with a field of view of 1.5 cm by 0.5 cm at a spatial resolution of 20 micrometers. The first task is to extract repetitive physiological patterns such as the normal breathing and heartbeat of the bird. Then the task is to analyze the relationship between superfast syringeal muscles and song syllable features. Our efforts in understanding the complex relationship between neural signals and muscular control of the vocal organ aids in developing new approaches for vocal prosthetics.

Background : Students in biology, computer sciences, physics, or similar areas are encouraged to apply. Knowledge in video analysis or programming is a plus but not a requirement.

Dave, A. S., & Margoliash, D. (2000). Song replay during sleep and computational rules for sensorimotor vocal learning. Science 290(5492).
Bolhuis, Johan J., et al. "Localized immediate early gene expression related to the strength of song learning in socially reared zebra finches." European Journal of Neuroscience 13.11 (2001): 2165-2170.
Düring, D. N., Ziegler, A., Thompson, C. K., Ziegler, A., Faber, C., Müller, J., … Elemans, C. P. (2013). The songbird syrinx morphome: a three-dimensional, high-resolution, interactive morphological map of the zebra finch vocal organ. BMC Biology, 11(1) Williams, H., & Nottebohm, F. (1985). Auditory responses in avian vocal motor neurons: a motor theory for song perception in birds. Science.
Düring, Daniel N., and Coen PH Elemans. "Embodied motor control of avian vocal production." Vertebrate Sound Production and Acoustic Communication. Springer International Publishing, 2016. 119-157.


Daniel Düring, dnd (at)
Anja Zai, zaia (at)
Sophie Cavé Lopez, sophie (at)

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