Japanese researchers hail ‘singing’ mouse
December 22, 2010
[ChattahBox] – In one of the more unusual cases of scientific inquiry, researchers at the University of Osaka have created a mouse that can tweet like a bird. And they believe this rare mutation could help them uncover the origins of all human language.
Based at Osaka University’s Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences, the team created the new hybrid in their “Evolved Mouse Project,” where they breed genetically modified mice. Such mice are prone to miscopying DNA and thus to mutations, and the tweeting mouse was one result.
“Mutations are the driving force of evolution,” lead researcher Arikuni Uchimura told the AFP. “We have cross-bred the mice for generations to see what would happen. One day we found a mouse that was singing like a bird.”
And despite being created by chance, Dr. Uchimura said the mouse’s unusual gift will continue through future generations.
“I was surprised because I’d been expecting mice that are different in physical shape,” he explained, noting that the same project had also produced a mouse “with short limbs and a tail, like a dachshund.”
The team now has over a hundred “singing” mice, and they will become part of a program to discover how human language evolved. Other research teams use birds such as finches to study the source of human linguistics, but Dr. Uchimura says mice provide better clues.
“Mice are better than birds to study because they’re mammals and much closer to humans in their brain structures and other biological aspects,” he said. “We’re watching how a mouse that emits new sounds would affect normal mice in the group. Does it have social connotations?”
The doctor also outlined the basic structure of mouse behavior – Normal mice usually squeak when under stress, but the tweeting group get louder when placed in a different environment, or when males encounter females.
“Their chirps may be some sort of expression of their emotions or bodily conditions,” the Doctor suggested.
Another quirk noticed by Uchimura’s researchers is that when ordinary mice grow up with singing mice they emit far fewer ultrasounds than is normal, which suggests communication methods can spread among a group like human dialect.
But despite his unusual discovery, Dr. Uchimura still believes further evolution could occur through genetic engineering.
“I know it’s a long shot and people would say it’s absurd, but I’m doing this with hopes of making a Mickey Mouse some day,” he said.