Animal Genetic Experiments: Mutating Mice to Sing

The premise of evolution is simple. As a species perpetuates, certain mutations in their genetics may arise that, if beneficial to surviving their environment, will then be associated with the most fit animals. This ensures the animal’s genes (along with the genetic mutation) will be replicated, making the likelihood of animals expressing the genetic mutation greater than animals that do not express the genetic mutation. In other words, sometimes our genetic information deviates from the norm but increases survival and so the genetic mutation becomes standard. Some examples of genetic mutation that helped or changed survival include opposable thumbs and the ability to breathe out of water (a genetic mutation that backfires if you decide land is not for you). Obviously, the process of genetic mutation naturally occurs in the wild. However, Japan’s very own University of Osaka recently conducted an animal experiment in which about 100 rats were made to chirp like birds.

Why would Japan create such a strange evolution of an animal? Originally, the university’s goal was not to introduce specific genetic mutations to animals but to study the evolution of animals in general. But after some research, a new program associated with the school’s animal evolution study (“Evolved Mouse Project”) began to test the consequences of breeding mice genetically susceptible to translating mutated DNA information. In this way, the University of Osaka could passively observe genetic mutation in a controlled environment ripe for strange animal evolution.

What is so shocking about the particular genetic mutations? Just as all animals have evolved to communicate with other members of their species, birds sing to convey messages to those around them. The fact that the genetically mutated rat sang indicates that the animal’s very method of communication has mutated (in support of this claim, the mice sang more vibrantly and for longer periods of time in response to their environment and whether female mice were nearby).

Even more interesting than this, mice are animals much closer to human genetics than birds. Therefore, because chirping is a noise animals make that are determined by linguistic rules, researchers hope that further study will reveal how human speech evolved over time, something the Japanese university workers had not previously fathomed when they initiated the genetic mutation experiment in the first place.

“Effects on Rat Sexual Behaviour of Acute MDMA (ecstasy) Alone or in Combination with Loud Music.” 2008. Web. 03 Apr. 2011.