David F. Clayton obtained his PhD with Prof. James E. Darnell Jr. (Rockefeller University, New York, NY) in 1985, and then launched the first investigations of genes expressed in the brain of songbirds (initially working with Prof. Fernando Nottebohm, also at Rockefeller). Clayton and his students discovered the Immediate Early Gene ("ZENK") response in vocal communication, and described the first patterns of developmental and sex-specific gene regulation in the vocal learning circuit. At the University of Illinois (1990-2012), he organized a broad set of international collaborations which led to the complete sequencing of the songbird (zebra finch) genome. In 2012 he moved to Queen Mary, University of London, as Professor of Neuroscience. With more than 14,000 citations and an H-index of >49 (Google Scholar), Clayton’s work continues to have influence over a wide range of fields. Clayton has been elected a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Society of Biology.
Julia M. George also obtained her PhD from Rockefeller (1993). She was an early pioneer in the study of the alpha-synuclein protein, which she discovered in the developing songbird vocal control circuit; she then defined its unique structural properties which contribute to its role in Parkinsons Disease. Since moving to London in 2012, her primary focus has been on the epigenetics of neural responses to social and environmental signals in songbird models.
Clayton and George have been fortunate to have a long and productive history of students, postdocs and collaborators. As of November 2019, a key active collaboration is with Kate Buchanan and Mylene Mariette (Deakin University, Australia), in the BBSRC-funded project Developmental reprogramming following prenatal acoustic signals. PhD student Mahalia Frank and Research Associate Katerina Palios are also participating in the project.
We are grateful for the many agencies who have provided support for this research, including the NIH, NSF, Whitehall Foundation, the National Parkinson Foundation, Leverhulme Trust, and the BBSRC.