Genetics

13 December 2007

Fearless mouse makes waves

The age-old animosity between cats and mice could be a thing of the past with genetically modified mice that scientists say show no fear and shed new light on mammal behaviour.

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The age-old animosity between cats and mice could be a thing of the past with genetically modified mice that Japanese scientists say show no fear and shed new light on mammal behaviour.

Scientists at Tokyo University say they have used genetic engineering to successfully switch off a mouse's instinct to cower at the smell or presence of cats - showing that fear is genetically hardwired and not learned through experience, as commonly believed.

"Mice are naturally terrified of cats and usually panic or flee at the smell of one," research team leader Ko Kobayakawa said.

"But mice with certain nasal cells removed through genetic engineering didn't display any fear. The mice approached the cat, even snuggled up to it and played with it," Kobayakawa said.

Fear genetically determined
"The discovery that fear is genetically determined and not learned after birth is very interesting, and goes against what was previously thought."

The findings suggest that human aversion to dangerous smells like that of rotten food, for example, could also be genetically predetermined, he said.

Kobayakawa said his findings, published in the science magazine Nature last month, should help researchers shed further light on how the brain processes information about the outside world. – (Sapa)

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