Beer - Humanizing the Mouse
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Humanizing the MouseNorbert and I both watched a popular movie a few decades ago called The Fly. Yeah, the scientist does an experiment where he ends up half human, half fly. It was creepy but silly too, except it’s not silly anymore.

Several labs across the country are now creating human hybrids. The term is used loosely, but at MIT for example, they’re introducing human genes into mice to see the impact on mouse brain function.

A Frankenmouse! Well, not quite, but neuroscientists there have introduced the human Foxp2 gene into mice. Since the gene is associated with language and speech development, did it enhance mouse brains?

To find out, they placed these engineered mice in a maze with normal mice. Both groups had to find chocolate using either visual or tactile clues, such as changes in the floor texture. The hybrid mice got there faster. In fact they were a third faster. But what’s interesting is when either the visual or the tactile clues were removed, the hybrid mice did no better. They were faster only when they could integrate both forms of information, like we do.

Humans learn tactile information unconsciously, while we absorb visual clues using declarative learning. Being able to switch between the two memories could explain why the hybrid mice did better and how it’s important to human speech development.

For example, when babies learn to speak, they’re using declarative learning by mimicking sounds, just as the mice learned the visual cues. When babies transition and speak automatically that’s unconscious learning just as the hybrid mice did when they felt the floor texture change.

These experiments give us unique insight into human physiology which may lead to new therapies. As for frankenmouse... you sci-fi fans will have to wait.

For more information…

Humanized Foxp2 accelerates learning by enhancing transitions from declarative to procedural performance
Original Journal article on this discovery

Mice given human brain gene learned tasks faster: study
Layperson-friendly synopsis of above journal article available at ScienceDaily

Current advances in humanized mouse models