Songbirds offer valuable opportunities for fundamental neuroscience research relevant to human health and disease. The Songbird Neurogenomics (SoNG) Initiative aims to advance this by aggressive, community- level application of emerging technologies in genomics and bioinformatics. In the previous period, >40,000 tags for genes expressed in songbird brain (Expressed Sequence Tags, ESTs) were created, from which a DMA microarray was produced for gene expression studies. 20 different research groups submitted propo- sals for experiments using these microarrays.
The first aim now is to follow through with execution of these proposals. Collectively they address a broad range of fundamental research questions about functional relationships between brain and genome. >800 brain samples will be analyzed by microarray, following a novel """"""""Community Collaboration"""""""" model whereby each individual research group provides brain samples (rigorously documented) to a collaborating core at Illinois, and the core executes all subsequent steps from RNA purification through microarray analysis. With common reference samples and techniques, the resulting expression data can be compared directly across all experiments. To facilitate analysis of results and sharing of data, an integrated, web-based suite of database, bioinformatics and statistical resources will be developed based on the NIH-supported """"""""Beehive"""""""" project. Genomic information will be further enhanced through additional EST production, development of a Genome Browser track, and creation of an improved, next-generation microarray. These resources will then be focused to complete a deep profile of brain regions key to song learning, assessing how they compare to other regions including brain areas that correspond to parts of human brain (such as auditory cortex and cortical regions for the control of speech production). A series of community conferences will be held to promote awareness and use of these tools and data, and to focus attention on """"""""next frontiers"""""""" for songbird neurogenomics. The songbird brain is of great interest for human neuroscience because it displays an unusual level of organization related to learning, adaptation, gender differences and vocal communication. Fundamental principles worked out first in songbirds have proven true for humans. Moreover, the approach here may serve as a model for doing science on a community scale, embracing individual initiative but coordinating efforts to achieve a larger synergy.
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