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Research at St Andrews

Sonja Vernes


Sonja Vernes
Postal address:
School of Biology
Bute Medical Buildings
St Andrews
United Kingdom


Direct phone: +44 (0)1334 46

Research overview

Sonja Vernes leads the Neurogenetics of Vocal Communication Research Group that studies the genetics of vocal communication in mammals, as a way to understand the evolution and biological basis of human speech and language.

My research program aims to understand the neuro-genetic mechanisms underlying the evolution and encoding of speech and language by studying key language-related traits such as vocal learning. My research uses diverse, interdisciplinary approaches including;

- clinical genetic analyses investigating the genetic causes of speech and language disorders in human cohorts

- omics approaches to discover novel genes involved in vocal learning in animal models including transcriptomics, network building and de novo genome sequencing (with the Bat1K genome sequencing consortium;

- molecular-genetic studies to examine the function of known language-related and vocal learning-related genes (e.g. those identified in clinical genetic studies)

- neurogenetic approaches to uncover vocal learning relevant circuits in a mammalian brain and create links between genes, neurobiology and vocal learning behaviour

- behavioural paradigms to determine the extent of vocal learning abilities in bat species as a model for mammalian vocal learning

This research program is pioneering the use of bats as the first tractable mammalian model of vocal learning in which it is possible to explore the neuro-genetic underpinnings of this complex behavioural trait. This highly interdisciplinary approach aims to answer fundamental questions about how vocal learning evolved, how it is biologically encoded, and inform our understanding of human spoken language and language disorders.


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