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Designer Mice

Posted on August 2, 2007 in Genetics Strange

square302Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have managed to create schizophrenic mice for the purpose of testing pharmaceuticals. Before this advance, researchers were obliged to inject the little mousies with PCP to simulate a psychotic break.

The gene was isolated in 2001 from the DNA of a large Scottish family whose members are prone to depression and schizophrenia. Other studies found the same mutation in Finnish and American families affected by mental illness, suggesting it might play a role in many cases of schizophrenia.

Over the past two years, scientists have also discovered similar DNA mutations in strains of mice bred for scientific research. The mice exhibited symptoms common to schizophrenic people, such as poor memory and odd behavior, and the animals seemed to respond to antipsychotic drugs.

The Hopkins scientists opted to insert the human version of the DISC1 gene into mouse DNA. The results were mutant mice that exhibited behavioral problems and had structural abnormalities in their brains similar to those found in human schizophrenics.

Designer mice aren’t a new thing: many researchers rely on the “Type A” mouse, the classic white mouse. There is even a special brand of white mouse known as the AJ which is the purest of the pure and a product of Jackson Laboratories in [[Bar_Harbor_(town)%2C_Maine|Bar Harbor]] (pronounced Ba Ha Ba), Maine. Neurologically impaired mice became a fashion among hobby breeders for a time when waltzing mice became a popular, if perverse pet.

One of the great wonders of the human species is that we’ve jumped into evolution as an active participant. Our skill in first breeding and then genetically altering the [[House_mouse|house mouse]] for multiple ends is just one of the things that makes us an intellectual wonder. It may be our oddest domestication, a creature bred neither for food or labor, derived from a household pest. The mouse just sits in its plastic box waiting for the needle. “Here, experiment on me.”

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