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Biotech Science

Genetically Engineered Mouse is Not Scared of Cats 286

Posted by Zonk
from the good-for-the-cat-not-so-much-the-mouse dept.
Gary writes "A team from the University of Tokyo has genetically engineered a mouse that does not fear cats. By tweaking genes to disable certain functions of the olfactory bulb (the area of the brain that receives information about smells directly from olfactory receptors in the nose) the researchers were able to create a 'fearless' mouse that does not try to flee when it smells cats, foxes and other predators. 'The research suggests that the mechanism by which mammals determine whether or not to fear another animal they smell -- and whether or not to flee -- is not a higher-order cerebral function. Instead, that decision is made based on a lower-order function that is hardwired into the neural circuitry of the olfactory bulb.'"
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Genetically Engineered Mouse is Not Scared of Cats

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  • Smell only? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:25AM (#21337175)
    So he's fearless if he smells a predator. What if the mouse sees a cat running full speed at him?
    • by Dunbal (464142) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:27AM (#21337217)
      Something tells me these mice are an evolutionary dead end...
      • Re:Smell only? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by xPsi (851544) * on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:47AM (#21337521)

        Something tells me these mice are an evolutionary dead end...
        I had the same response initially as well. However, the point of the research has nothing to do with mice or fear per se, rather, from TFA, the point is to:

        better understand the structure of the brain's neural circuitry responsible for processing information about the outside world
        . Turning off and on various inputs (like smell) is a good way to proceed. Nevertheless, as a general principle, I think most mice would agree that turning off the fear of cats would be a bad thing. And, hey, let's face it, the cats would be pretty disappointed too since giving chase is 90% of the fun for them.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by LingNoi (1066278)
          These mice might be interesting to use for a study into feline behaviour.
        • Re:Smell only? (Score:5, Informative)

          by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <[Satanicpuppy] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:50PM (#21339527) Journal
          It's not really about fun; most predators are hardwired to chase things that run, because that's a good indication of edibility...If it doesn't run, there may be something going on there, something that it may not be in your best interest to find out about the hard way.

          If it does run, however, you can make a high percentage guess that it thinks that's its best defense in the situation, so you're pretty safe in chasing it...It's not going to fail at running, then turn around and bite your head off.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by medge_42 (173874)
            We had guinea pigs when I was a kid and five cats. The guinea pigs were given a large roaming area that was open to the world and grew very used to having cats in that area. Neither species bothered the other. When the new neighbors moved in next door with their cat, I watch with interest as it stalked the largest of our guinea pigs. It pounced and the guinea pig didn't run, it simply looked up as if to say "What?". The cat seemed to say "Your right, I have no idea what is meant to happen now.", and walked
          • Re:Smell only? (Score:4, Informative)

            by Zarf (5735) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:31PM (#21344499) Journal

            most predators are hardwired to chase things that run, because that's a good indication of edibility...If it doesn't run, there may be something going on there, something that it may not be in your best interest to find out about the hard way.

            And, that's why in survival training the tell you not to run from a bear. If the bear sees you run you trigger the predator response. So instead you talk to the bear and back away the way you came. Bears don't normally eat things that talk and move backwards so you probably won't get mistaken for food. The result is a bear that is some what confused as to how it should react... so you just might get away.

            So I wonder if our brave mousy friends get treated with equal confusion by cats.

      • by Fishead (658061) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:52AM (#21337597)
        How about try this on rabbits, then turn loose a whole bunch in Australia. A few years later you may have a boom in Dingo population, but if we then breed Dingo's that are scared of Kangaroos...
        • by xENoLocO (773565)
          Or dingos that aren't afraid of humans...
          • by j-pimp (177072)

            Or dingos that aren't afraid of humans...

            Half the fun of interacting with a dingo is getting accepted as a pack member. Even if your the type of person that can get a typical domesticated dog to listen to you in a few hours, a dingo will provide a nice challenge to you.

      • Either that or they haven't been very Intelligently Designed.
      • We're engineering our mice to be stronger... faster... smarter... better... The new super-mouse will be able to take on a cat... and WIN! Immortality for mice is just around the corner. This is not an evolutionary dead end! This is the future of life as we know it!
    • by eln (21727) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:27AM (#21337223) Homepage
      Easy, he just puts something slick like a banana peel on the floor and holds out a frying pan and waits for the cat to run face first into it.
    • Re:Smell only? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:40AM (#21337445)
      Or maybe they modified more than just the sense of smell, by mistake. I'm not trying to be all gloom and doom, but there's no way they fully understand what modifications they made. We still only know the very basics about DNA... Until they can -for sure- know all the effects modifying a gene will have, they can't say that their research means anything.

      I happen to believe that they are correct in that mice fears predators at an instinct level... But I disagree that it's smell alone.
      • Too true... I wish I could give you a +1 this time.

        If you read about genes and the proteins they encode, it's nuts. Mother Nature is the biggest hacker there is. The same gene, for example, a mutation in MC1R [wikipedia.org] responsible for red hair and not getting a tan, _also_ influences:

        - freckles

        - pain sensitivity (and at that, differently by kind of pain. More sensitivity to, for example, burns, but less to pain caused by electricity.)

        - response to pain killers and anesthetics (again, quite differently by type: it mak
      • I'm not trying to be all gloom and doom, but there's no way they fully understand what modifications they made.

        Reminds me of the cheat mode in Mortal Kombat where you could set loads of optional flags. It was really hard to work out what any of them actually did. Except this is with mice...
    • by p0tat03 (985078)
      The mouse would likely still run. The point here is that it's advantageous for a lifeform to remain relatively simple by operation. If the mouse has no sense of smell, and sees a cat running at him, it will probably trigger the "ohnoes, something unknown coming at me!" reflex in the mouse, which is pretty universal regardless of the approaching object is a cat or a boot. This removes the necessity for complex recognition and other such cognitive functions.
    • by Azarael (896715)
      I'm not sure how general this result is, there's also research that indicates that some baby primates aren't afraid of snakes until they see how adult primates react to seeing one. Probably most mammals have slightly different mechanisms for doing this sort of thing.
      • by Reziac (43301) *
        I think this depends on having the "fear of snakes" gene, which some folks evidently have, and others don't. I've observed that some humans freak at the sight of certain critters -- snakes, spiders, worms, whatever, and it's just the way they're wired.

        Frex, when my mom sees a snake, she literally screams and jumps onto the nearest high object, then stands there screaming and pointing at it *exactly* like wild monkeys do -- and it's clearly hardwired behaviour. She says she did it the very first time she eve
    • I had another thought -- release some of these into the wild to breed with normal-fearful mice, to make them more "lunchable" for predators, as a natural method of rodent control. Might be particularly useful in areas where you can't use poison bait.

      Side thought: I wonder if there's a similar gene that occurs occasionally in wild cottontail rabbits? Sometimes we see a batch of 'em that are just plain stupid-fearless, way beyond the norm. Needless to say, they tend not to make it to maturity (which is a good
    • That's because it's BIGGER than most cats!!! The wonders of genetic engineering.
  • Fearless Mice.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kabocox (199019) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:28AM (#21337239)
    I can't find myself fearing fearless mice. Why? Because there was most likely a very good reason for the mice that they are afraid of cats and large things that can eat them... I just can't seem to worry about these things getting loose and breeding in the wild.

    It's sort of like the fear of spiders, snakes, bears, and large cats. There are very valid reasons for humans to be naturally afraid of things that can kill/harm and maybe eat us.
    • by GrievousMistake (880829) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:46AM (#21337515)
      Well I bet you'll change your mind once you stand face to face with the new race of fearless, regenerating mice that can run six kilometres without rest and glow in the dark. But by then it will be far too late to do anything but welcome our new cheese-eating overlords.
      Their only weakness is a slightly increased risk of cancer when exposed to various substances. Oh, if only we had invested equal resources in building better cats!
    • I can't find myself fearing fearless mice. Why? Because there was most likely a very good reason for the mice that they are afraid of cats and large things that can eat them... I just can't seem to worry about these things getting loose and breeding in the wild.
      It's sort of like the fear of spiders, snakes, bears, and large cats. There are very valid reasons for humans to be naturally afraid of things that can kill/harm and maybe eat us.

      It's not the mice I'm afraid of, it's the supersoldier program to which this could be applied [clinicaltrials.gov].

      Of course, I'm not entirely sure they took out the mice's fear as much as their ability to detect the smell... maybe that's in TFA, I'll go see.

    • by NetSettler (460623)

      I can't find myself fearing fearless mice. Why? Because there was most likely a very good reason for the mice that they are afraid of cats and large things that can eat them...

      Note that experiments like this are inherently more imprecise than the way they are summarized. The whole point is not "fears cats" or "doesn't fear cats", it's "has been observed trying things it wasn't previously doing that are assumed to be out of fear of cats" and "not having been observed ...etc." I recommend not reading

    • I can't find myself fearing fearless mice. Why? Because there was most likely a very good reason for the mice that they are afraid of cats and large things that can eat them... I just can't seem to worry about these things getting loose and breeding in the wild.

      Well, first off, how do you know they won't enable a large population of predators (say, wolves, or owls) to thrive until the fearless mice all get eaten; then you have a surplus of hungry owls and a scarcity of prey... sure hope you don't have mous

    • I fear fearless mice. I somehow got cats without the "kill small animals instinct" so I know all the fearless mice are going to move to my house.
    • by jimicus (737525)
      Because there was most likely a very good reason for the mice that they are afraid of cats and large things that can eat them..

      I'd imagine the reason is that they might get eaten.
  • Seems flawed... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by EmagGeek (574360)
    Whatever function is triggered is being disabled by the removal of the SMELL capacity, not the FLEE capacity. That part of the mouse's brain that is responsible for interpreting the smell of a predator is probably still working fine, but is just not being stimulated because they have disabled the SMELL part.
    • Re:Seems flawed... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kadin2048 (468275) * <slashdot.kadin@xox[ ]et ['y.n' in gap]> on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:44AM (#21337493) Homepage Journal
      Well, I think that it's interconnected; there are certain smell receptors in a mouse that are hardwired to the "oh shit, run" response. They have disabled that in these mice, either by breaking the connection or disabling/removing the smell receptors more directly. The result is that the behavior is not present anymore.

      That's really the interesting thing, here: they have found a genetic variation that produces a very definite, high-level behavioral change. That's pretty cool.

      Although it's clear that many animals have a lot of behaviors that are 'instinctive' and must be carried genetically (which you can test by bringing an animal up in an environment that's devoid of other animals and monitoring it's behavior), it's not terribly clear exactly how they work and are transmitted. This might be one small step towards understanding a part of that.
      • by timeOday (582209)
        My question is, can the mice still smell the cats? If the mice can still smell the cat, but the link from "cat smell" to "fear" is gone, yet the link from "cat appearance" to "fear" still persists, then I agree that is interesting.

        What would also be interesting is if the genetically modified mice can learn to fear the smell of cats by repeatedly smelling them just before seeing them, or something.

        • What would also be interesting is if the genetically modified mice can learn to fear the smell of cats by repeatedly smelling them just before seeing them, or something.

          Or, conversely, if it's possible to train mice not to get fear when they smell a cat.

          Or, if it's possible to retrain the emotions humans get from scents that they probably don't recognize are there.
  • Not New (Score:3, Funny)

    by moehoward (668736) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:30AM (#21337269)

    Not news. They already engineering ones that do not fear my wife. It was only a matter of time.

    Another team took the opposite approach and genetically engineered many people I know to have an irrational fear of global warming.

    I'm glad their tackling this fear things from both ends.
  • by scoser (780371) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:30AM (#21337273) Journal
    Once we have this treatment available for humans, Slashdotters will no longer be afraid of women!
  • by red_dragon (1761) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:30AM (#21337279) Homepage
    In other news, Doraemon is still scared of mice.
  • by idontgno (624372) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:31AM (#21337289) Journal
    There's ample prior art [wikipedia.org].
  • The company that made mouse an integral part of personal computer also makes all the OSes named like panther, tiger and leopard. So I am not surprised the mouse does not fear the cat. Aren't mice intelligently designed by Steve Jobs?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ElephanTS (624421)

      Aren't mice intelligently designed by Steve Jobs?


      No, it's the other way around ;-0

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:32AM (#21337307) Homepage Journal
    This mouse is often seen wielding a large mallet.
  • these results to man. for unlike the lower animals, we are motivated by higher mental orders of conscience and reason. of course, some wankers will come along and say that we are also help captive to these lower impulses. but i say-

    mmm... who's cooking brownies?
  • /. needs ones who can smell a geek and not run scared :-)
    • Taking a shower converts nearby girls to that type.

      (For it to work though, the shower must be performed *out* of their view.)
  • Wasn't there a disease that made a cat not only unafraid of cats, but attracted to their smell? I can't remember the name, but it infects the cat too, which incubates and spawns more of the disease in the stool etc, which then infects more rodents. It's also supposed to be one of the reasons that pregnant women should stay away from cats (or at least litter boxes) as it may have links to various child developmental issues.
  • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) * on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:35AM (#21337375)

    The sense of smell is a big deal in the way predator and prey interact. For example, without a doubt the best way to get rid of the squirrels in your attic is to squirt just a small amount of fox urine fox urine [cabelas.com] up there. Just a few drops around your attic ladder opening will have those little farts on the run and gone within a day. Then plug up whatever holes originally allowed them to get up there and the problem is solved.

    One caution: I've found that it only works once. If you don't seal up those holes, the squirrels come back and the second application doesn't work. Maybe you just need fresh urine. But no matter the reason, don't put off the soffet repairs (or whatever work you need to do) after scaring them away.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by dkh2 (29130)
      For the second application you need urine from a Targ [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Luke Dawson (956412)

      the best way to get rid of the squirrels in your attic is to squirt just a small amount of fox urine fox urine up there.
      Thanks! Now we all know what to get our in-laws for Christmas!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I know this is going really off-topic, but it follows on from getting rid of pests.

      My in-laws had a problem with deer on their property and tried every solution that was suggested [apart from shooting them]. Urine and dung from every creature known to man was scattered about to no effect. Finally we found the one thing to work - it's a motion detector on a water hose, animal crosses the path and gets a jet of water. After a couple of times the wild-life problems were solved - to be replaced by local kid
    • by nobodyman (90587) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @12:37PM (#21338353) Homepage

      For example, without a doubt the best way to get rid of the squirrels in your attic is to squirt just a small amount of fox urine fox urine up there.
      Oh yeah? Well what happens when my attic is bristling with foxes . Now that they smell a fox-friendly, air conditioned home? What then, smarty pants? Bobcat urine? No thanks! I'll stick with squirrels, thankyouverymuch. At least they fill my attic with acorns.
  • I fear mice with only one button...
  • but what if one of these mice doesn't have a nose, how does it smell?
  • Consider a time long ago. Mice (and other small furry creatures)smelt every other animal around them. Some mice had "flee" triggers for pretty much anything - they ran away all the time and died out as they never stayed still long enough to eat/breed. Others had little or no "flee" triggers - they died out as they got eaten. The rest survived as they fled from predators and ignored non-threatening animals.

    All these guys have done is wind back the clock and created one of the evolutionary branches that dies

    • by Reziac (43301) *
      As I note above, it might be useful as a form of natural pest control -- release the fearless mice into the wild to breed with normal mice, and hope the next generation gets eaten by predators at a higher rate, thus at least temporarily reducing the population. Might be useful in the way that, say, releasing ladybugs every year can help keep the aphids down to a mere horde -- not a permanent solution, nor severe enough to unbalance the ecology, but effective enough to reduce their numbers from "pest" to "no
  • I realize mice are the first to be tested on subjects that involve danger for the animal. But I also realize that the functions of a mouse are very different from that of many mammals. All they've proved here is that it works for mice, not mamamls.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      Your brain is basically a mouse brain with an almost out of control cortical growth wrapped around it. The more primitive parts of the brain are quite similar between all vertebrates, and the olfactory system is one of the oldest bits. Until someone tries this in other animals, there's more reason to think these mechanisms might be common to most mammals than there is to think otherwise.
      • by Reziac (43301) *
        Meaning the principle might be useful toward treating the irrational and disabling phobias some people suffer from, in some cases triggered by odors.

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)
          Possibly. There are likely a variety of ways phobias can arise. Many of them seem to be learned, or the result of some trauma, even if it was so early it's been forgotten.

          There might be a portion of the population who have phobias that arise from genetic mutations. Still, genetic therapy would be a pretty radical intervention.
  • I'll be honest, I'm not an expert in mouse physiology, but it doesn't seem like a stretch to suggest that evolution has provided certain animals with reactions to certain smells that might trigger an adrenaline rush. It wouldn't have to be a terribly complex biochemical pathway to get from smell to adrenaline, I would image. After all, for humans, the only stimulus needed to cause an adrenaline rush is pain. I would imagine this too happens at a pretty low-level, biologically. And yet we also learn behavior
  • Genetically engineer humans not to be afraid of the opinions of others, and then we'll have fun watching flash mobs nail them to crosses and make them prophets.
  • Fear is good. Fear keeps us safe and alive. Fear is our response to danger.

    Without fear, we do stupid things. Without fear, there is no courage.

    Without fear, the species will go extinct.
  • by Elucid (112657) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @12:10PM (#21337927) Homepage
    Maybe someone pointed this out already, or perhaps I am just a bozo...

    If a mouse's sensorium is determined a great deal by its sense of smell... and you disable that sense of smell... its "higher-order cerebral functions" would be impaired because they would not be getting the input they require to make decisions. How can you conclude that fear in mammals is related to the oflactory sense? Other mammals may use other senses to a larger degree.

    To me, this seems like the old joke about the bad scientist who concluded that a frog with all its legs removed becomes deaf because it doen't jump when he yells at it.
  • I once knew a Golden Retriever who had hay fever. Put him in the field and let him see a duck get shot. He'd run after the duck, and as he got closer, as all duck dogs tend to do, would start use his nose more then his eyes. After a couple of minutes, he'd come up sneezing and sneezing and never would find that duck.

    Yep. Turn off part of the sense of smell, and critters might lose an instinct or two.


  • One project aims at fighting stupidity; another successfully engineers it.

  • If you're in the pest control industry, you could do the following:

    1. Discover a way to make mice not fear cats
    2. Create a delivery system to get this into mice (much in the same way that you lay out poison for mice)
    3. Encourage people to get both the delivery system and cats to solve their mouse problem.
    4. ?????
    5. Profit!
  • when you can build a dumber mouse!
  • Al gato y al ratón, jugabas con mi amor, al gato y al ratón, sin consideración!
  • Darwin wept.
  • They love,
    they share;
    They love and share and care;
    Love and share!
    Share and care!
    The Itchy and Scratchy Show!

    Scratchy: "Lemonade?"
    Itchy: "Please."
    Scratchy: "I made it just for you."
    Itchy: "You are my best friend. Mmm. This really hits the spot."
    Scratchy: "Doesn't it though?"
    Itchy: "You make really good lemonade, Scratchy."
    Scratchy: "Thank you, Itchy."

If it happens once, it's a bug. If it happens twice, it's a feature. If it happens more than twice, it's a design philosophy.

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