I wake up scheming


Researchers find new ways to make mice worry

While there are a lot of things that could make the common house mouse into an even more obnoxious pest (in fact, my mind reels at the possibilities: heat vision, laser claws, even just breeding them to be ten times their natural size), an exciting new method has just been discovered by Shahin Raffi of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Raffi and his team have uncovered a gene (slitrkp5) which, when turned off, can turn your happy-go-lucky house mouse into a nervous wreck, exhibiting the repetitive grooming behaviors of a human with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  The mice not only behave like humans with OCD, they even demonstrate similar brain activity.

This new model of OCD has exciting implications for researchers trying to better understand the neuroscience underlying the disorder.  It could even help researchers develop genetic treatments.  More importantly, though, are the implications for people who are trying to overrun the world with especially annoying rodents.

Imagine, if you will, a world overrun not just with house mice, but pathologically anxious house mice.  They’d repeatedly chew through the wires of your favorite appliances and steal your cashews because they don’t know when to stop annoying you!  And they’d be too cautious to eat the cheese from a mousetrap without first repeatedly checking that the cheese is safe!  They would be infuriating!  I hate to sound cliché, but…

Bwa ha ha ha ha!

So this is my newest scheme: breed an army of house mice missing the slitrkp5 gene and introduce them into households worldwide.  Brilliant, right?

Unfortunately, Rafii’s mice don’t seem to demonstrate the symptoms necessary for this scheme to be really annoying.  In fact, his mice seem more reclusive and self-destructive than normal mice.  But surely an evil genius like myself can find some way to make use of an enormous population of timorous, shivering pests.



I won’t clam up about this scheme!

Laugh at me, if you wish to tempt my salty, invertebrate wrath, but I can promise you that if this scheme succeeds, the world will tremble before my fearsome bivalve army.  And no, I’m not just flexing my mussels.

© Gwen and James Anderson

Recent work from McGill University biologist Frédéric Guichard shows that California mussels, whose networking skills have previously been questioned because of their sedentary lifestyle, may communicate at much greater distances than previously supposed.  Guichard and colleagues have created mathematical models based on ecological data to show that when a group of mussels releases larvae, it can cause nearby populations to do the same, setting off a chain reaction of larva release that can extend all the way up the coast.  These chain reactions can result in closely-timed larval release in mussels from San Diego to Seattle, and these patterns could exist in other bivalves as well.

This could have tremendous implications for conservation efforts, which had previously focused on isolated colonies of mussels instead of considering interactions between disparate communities.  But more importantly (for me), this could have tremendous implications for my efforts to corral the bivalves of the Pacific Ocean into a fearsome army, capable of attacking coastal towns from Baja California to the Bering Strait.

After all, how much of a leap is it from one group of mussels telling a faraway group to release larvae, to a single deranged marine biologist (moi) instructing all the mussels of the West coast to simultaneously invade the land?  Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but with some finessing of the mussel signaling mechanisms, who knows what could happen?