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Singing mice can adapt their tune, say researchers

A new study claims that mice can adapt the pitch of their ultrasonic mating melodies.

Researchers at Duke University say the finding changes the long held belief that learning vocalizations was only restricted to humans, certain birds and dolphins.

“We are claiming that mice have limited versions of the brain and behavior traits for vocal learning that are found in humans for learning speech and in birds for learning song,” said study author Erich Jarvis, according to Red Orbit.

LiveScience reported that singing in animals involves connections between the brain's motor cortex and the vocal cords - a connection which mice were found to have, if only a simple one.

The website points out that in both chimpanzees and monkeys, our closest relatives, that connection is absent.

The study put male mice with different vocal pitches together in a cage.

Gradually, their songs began to converge as they learned from one another over eight weeks.

"When we put a female in the cage with two males, we then found that one male would change his pitch to match the other. It was usually the smaller animal changing the pitch to match the larger animal," Jarvis told BBC News.

Researchers say the breakthrough could help humans too.

“If we’re not wrong, these findings will be a big boost to scientists studying diseases like autism and anxiety disorders,” said Jarvis, reported Red Orbit.

“The researchers who use mouse models of the vocal communication effects of these diseases will finally know the brain system that controls the mice’s vocalizations.”

The new research was published in the journal PLOS ONE.