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Fabian Heim

WP 5 Language evolution and diversity

Fabian Heim is a PhD student with a keen interest in genetic contributions to behaviour, in particular vocalisations. He is supervised by Carel ten Cate and Katharina Riebel from Leiden University, Simon Fisher from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and Constance Scharff from the Freie Universit├Ąt in Berlin.

Strong interdisciplinarity is a prerequisite for his project which centres on gene-function studies in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). In these songbirds, he is studying the P family of forkhead box transcription factors, which are important for speech and language in humans and for sensory-motor learning in animal models. His research focuses on auditory perception and memory. Although such skills are relevant for vocalizations it is not yet known whether FoxP proteins play a role in these functions. Fabian will investigate the behavioural and molecular consequences of manipulating FoxP protein levels in songbird auditory brain regions.

As a member of WP5 he contributes to the understanding of language evolution and diversity by providing information about the underlying mechanisms of speech and language perception in a species that is a vocal production learner. This trait enables individuals to pick up new vocalisations by imitation and is particularly well understood at the behavioural and neural level in songbirds. In humans, vocal production learning is one of the major prerequisites of language acquisition.

More information on Fabian's PhD project.