Ultrasonic whistle in mice bypasses vocal cords

mouseVANCOUVER, Wash. – Researchers at Washington State University Vancouver have discovered that mice make ultrasonic sounds by using their windpipes as whistles, avoiding the use of their vocal cords entirely. This has implications for studies of the human brain and speech.

Elena Mahrt

Researchers have never seen an animal make sound this way, said Elena Mahrt, a WSU Vancouver graduate student and lead author of a paper out this week in Current Biology.

She said the discovery helps refine the way researchers can use mice as a model for human speech. Scientists can look for genetic mutations that change the way the animals vocalize and look for relevant changes in brain structure, opening new ways of looking at disorders like autism.

Mahrt, who defends her doctoral dissertation next month, did the research with Christine Portfors, associate professor in biological sciences, and researchers from the University of Washington, University of Southern Denmark and University of Cambridge.

Read more about the study here.