Genetically Engineered Mice Flex and Fluoresce

Genetically Engineered Mice Flex and Fluoresce

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 5, 2007 in Genetic Engineering

Genetically engineered mice captured everyone’s imagination and paranoia last week. First, supermice were created that are able to:

  1. Run longer and faster
  2. Eat 60 percent more food but not gain weight
  3. Live longer
  4. Have a longer breeding life

brainbowThen, news of mice genetically engineered to have brain neurons that can fluoresce in 90 different colors amazed everyone. These “brainbows” are the result of four color-producing genes and will make it easier to study neuronal circuits. In this Science Friday podcast, Ira Flatow interviewed Dr. Jeff Lichtman, one of the researchers who developed the Brainbow technique. (Click play to listen.)

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Not everyone is thrilled with the idea of transgenic animals. In the US, animal rights activists vandalized UCLA scientist Edyth London’s home and caused extensive damage. She and her colleagues conducting research on animals have been harrassed and threatened with violence for years. In the UK, animal welfare groups want researchers to find other ways to conduct research even as the number of genetically engineered/modified (GM) animals used in British laboratories continues to increase.

UK GeneWatch director, Helen Wallace, predictably came out against genetically engineered supermice as well. She first warns us against the creation of superhumans, moves on to animal rights, then suggests that we’re wasting money on genetics research “in a world where many diseases are neglected and people cannot get the medicines they need.” Bryan Appleyard’s assessment of supermice is much more pragmatic (and snarky).

In what could be a direct response to Helen Wallace and other animal rights activists, Ian Wilmut and Roger Highfield write in After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning:

Every time I hear calls for blanket curbs on genetic technology, I think of the heart patient who died waiting for a transplant as animal rights protestors championed the rights of xenograft pigs, or the mother forced to watch her son suffer because fundamentalists took legal action to prevent her from having what they call a “designer baby” (a technique the relies on embryo selection, not genetic modification, as this pejorative label suggests). Abandoning a particularly “dangerous” technology wholesale can kill, maim and hurt future generations by preventing that technology from doing any good at all. Society has to weigh the opportunities to help and make sure that it does not miss important new opportunities because of fear of new knowledge. We should be prepared to change our views and judgements in the light of new discoveries.

How have your views and judgments changed lately?

HT: Boing Boing, Gene Expression, Thought Experiments

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Comment by David Bradley

Don’t talk to me about mice! We have had an influx of wild-type muridae this weekend


Hope they didn’t poop too much! yuck

Comment by David Bradley

Oh, don’t…they did.

Two down, no idea how many to go…


I once opened my garage door to find one lonely mouse lying dead smack dab in the middle of the floor. EEEEK!! Hantavirus immediately sprang to mind.

Comment by David Bradley

Yes, I must admit while I was scooping the rodentious poop and mopping up the murine urine, it did occur to me that I might catch something that could dissolve my lungs…thankfully I don’t think hanta and its viral cousins are endemic in the UK…are they?



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Comment by KageTora Subscribed to comments via email

Right. So, I guess this research is intended for humans.

It means we will be able to:

Run longer and faster

This would be good, because we could do more in the little time we have each day.

Eat 60 percent more food but not gain weight

Good for getting rid of obesity, but doesn’t help the world food shortage.

Live longer

Good for us individually, but it just means there’ll be more of us – not good for the current population crisis

Have a longer breeding life

If it’s not intended for humans, it just means we’re just going to have loads of mice running around eating more of our stuff and being harder to catch!


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