Smithsonian.com covers research that began with the study of birdsong and ended by overturning the common belief that adult animals can't produce new brain cells. "Deconstructing birdsong may seem an unlikely way to shake up biology. But [Fernando] Nottebohm's research has shattered the belief that a brain gets its quota of nerve cells shortly after birth and stands by helplessly as one by one they die — a 'fact' drummed into every schoolkid's skull. [Nottebohm] demonstrated two decades ago that the brain of a male songbird grows fresh nerve cells in the fall to replace those that die off in summer. The findings were shocking, and scientists voiced skepticism that the adult human brain had the same knack for regeneration. ... Yet, inspired by Nottebohm's work, researchers went on to find that other adult animals — including human beings — are indeed capable of producing new brain cells. And in February, scientists reported for the first time that brand-new nerves in adult mouse brains appeared to conduct impulses — a finding that addressed lingering concerns that newly formed adult neurons might not function."
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