Universiteit Leiden

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Fabian Heim

External PhD candidate / Guest

F.D. Heim MSc
+31 71 527 2727

I am a PhD student in Carel ten Cate's research group where I am also supervised by Katharina Riebel. Other parts of my research are conducted at the Max-Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Language and Genetics department of Simon Fisher and Constance Scharff's department for Animal Behaviour at the Freie University in Berlin.

More information about Fabian Heim


My main interest revolves around the question of how genes and behaviours are intertwined. I am particularly interested in the genetic architecture behind one of the most complex behavioural traits ever evolved: human speech and language.

While working with different animal species from threadworms over parasitoid wasps to birds, I became fascinated by cognition with a special focus on perception. Vocal communication, especially when it is as complex as in vocal learning species, relies heavily on perception and major cognitive abilities. These of course require a thorough neurobiologcal backbone based on gene regulation and protein functions. For instance, strong evidence connects a group of gene regulators, called forkhead box proteins (FoxPs) to human speech and language while they also affect birdsong in a comparable pattern.

It is the aim of my research to find out more about keyplayers such as FoxPs and how they affect auditory perception of vocal communication on the molecular, as well as the behavioural level. Ultimately, this might broaden our understanding of language evolution as well as the underlying molecular processes.


I received my bachelor's degree in 2011 from the University of Tübingen where I investigated the hunting behaviour across different strains of the nematode Pristionchus pacificus. Afterwards I moved on to the University of Hohenheim where I obtained my master's degree on the relevance of a transcription factor for long term memory in the parasitoid wasp Nasonia vitripennis in 2014.

Along my undergraduate studies I worked as field assistant at the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology on different research projects such as female promiscuity or incubation patterns of shorebirds.

In September 2014 I began my project on the neurogenomics of vocal learning in the zebra finch at Leiden University.

Grants & Fellowships

  • PhD Scholarship from the Language in Interaction Consortium
  • Award for the best MSc thesis of the Agriculture and Science faculty (winterterm 2014/2015 to summerterm 2015) at the University of Hohenheim.

External PhD candidate / Guest

  • Science
  • Instituut Biologie Leiden
  • IBL Animal Sciences

No relevant ancillary activities

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