Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spiny Mice

For 100 years, scientists have been studying mice in the laboratory. Usually they are the highly inbred kind, like albino Balb/c mice or black C57BL/6 mice. Often, they have been genetically manipulated in some way to serve the purposes of the investigators. But basically, they are still the same thing. Lab mice.

Some experiments call for a different kind of mouse. Here's a study that uses spiny mice (Acomys cahirinus). From the picture above you can see that they are not your typical lab mice. Their eyes are bigger, for one thing, like those of wild mice. (Lab mice seem to have lost the visual acuity of their wild cousins, not needing to see and avoid predators to survive.)

They are called spiny mice because their guard hairs are stiff, giving them a prickly coat. Mind you, I've never touched one, myself. Some say they are related more closely to gerbils than to mice.

Why use these mice instead of cheap, available, run of the mill lab mice? The study looked at the the ability of the pups to tolerate oxygen deprivation at birth. They used spiny mice because they are more mature at birth than lab mice, more like human babies. Their eyes are open, for example, and their brains are more developed.

As for the findings, the pups were protected from brain damage by supplementing the diets of the pregnant mothers with creatine, that stuff that body builders take to bulk up their muscles.

I could make a comment here about the brains of body builders, but I won't.