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Need A Soprano? Get A Gibbon On Helium

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This just in: Gibbons on helium sing like sopranos. Wired magazine reports on a study at Kyoto University in which an ape named Fuku-chan was placed in a chamber filled with helium enriched air. This was not a party trick. Helium-rich air apparently allows scientists to more easily analyze vocalizations. Fuku-chan's bellow went from this:

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLOWING)

SIMON: To this:

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLOWING)

SIMON: Primatologist Takeshi Nishimura said that for the first time the study showed, quote, "a non-human using a mechanism similar to human to make the very distinct vocalizations of songs." His results were published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Wired reports that the Kyoto study found that the gibbons' vocal tract and larynx resonate independently -just like us humans - and that allows both of us simians to amplify low-pitched sounds differently from high-pitched ones. Scientists used to think this trait was distinctly human. What will they discover next? That gibbons can also make lattes? Fuku-chan, my fellow simian, can modulate her singing...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLOWING)

SIMON: ...in the way that a human soprano does.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

SIMON: But no matter how much helium we inhale...

(SOUNDBITE OF INHALATION)

SIMON: Some of us still can't sing like a soprano.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: I like this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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