December 21, 2010

Japanese Researchers Breed ‘Singing Mouse’

Researchers at Osaka University in Japan have bio-engineered a mouse that can tweet like a bird as part of a unique project that uses the rodent species to create genetic mutations.

The "Evolved Mouse Project," which is the topic of a December 21 article by AFP reporter Miwa Suzuki, uses mice in their research because the creatures are prone to having their DNA miscopied during the genetic modification process.

Osaka University researchers are hoping that this latest mutation will help them learn more about the origins of human language. They intend to study the creature the same way that some scientists in other parts of the world study songbirds to find out how they string different sounds together into their "songs" and how that compares to voices in men and women.

"Mutations are the driving force of evolution. We have cross-bred the genetically modified mice for generations to see what would happen," lead researcher Arikuni Uchimura told Suzuki on Tuesday. "We checked the newly born mice one by one... One day we found a mouse that was singing like a bird."

According to Suzuki, the "singing mouse" was discovered by accident, but Professor Takeshi Yagi at the school's Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences and his colleagues say that they will now attempt to pass the trait onto future generations of the rodent.

Yagi told Suzuki that they have also successfully produced mice with different physical characteristics, including one with "short limbs and a tail like a dachshund."

"Mice are better than birds to study because they are mammals and much closer to humans in their brain structures and other biological aspects," Uchimura told Suzuki. "We are watching how a mouse that emits new sounds would affect ordinary mice in the same group... in other words if it has social connotations."

Suzuki said that the researchers observed the mutant mice made different noises in different situations, or when male rodents were placed together with females, leading Uchimura to believe that the different chirps or songs "may be some sort of expressions of their emotions or bodily conditions."

"I know it's a long shot and people would say it's 'too absurd'... but I'm doing this with hopes of making a Mickey Mouse some day," he added.


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