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Lucky lab mice get to live in a 'smart house'

By
Brooks Hays
The new smart house for mice, the Autonomouse, allows lab mice to test or train when they choose to, instead of being forced perform under stress. Photo by Andrew Erskine
The new smart house for mice, the Autonomouse, allows lab mice to test or train when they choose to, instead of being forced perform under stress. Photo by Andrew Erskine

March 7 (UPI) -- Scientists have developed a "smart house" for mice, which will allow scientists to observe the behavior of tested mice while limiting disturbance levels.

Researchers are constantly working to ensure external factors and outside influence, like the presence of a peering scientists, aren't influencing test results. Designers of the new digs claim their "Autonomouse" system will improve the welfare of lab mice, while ensuring greater consistency across different tests results.

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"We want to understand how the brain works, and for that we need to measure behavior," Andreas Schaefer, neuroscience researcher at the Francis Crick Institute in England, said in a news release. "In mice, this is normally done in a very manual and laborious way, which limits the amount of questions we can ask. So we thought of a more efficient way of doing this by getting animals to train themselves."

Schaefer and his colleagues outfitted their smart house for mice with an unlimited supply of food and water, as well as plenty of entertainment, including running wheels and ladders. Each of the inhabitants are tagged with a microchip that allow scientists to remotely monitor the mice's activity levels, weight and water consumption.

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The microchip also allows scientists to isolate individual mice for tasks and training. When a mouse enters the test or training room, the microchip triggers the door to close, keeping other mice out. The chip also records the results of each individual test. Test results are linked with each individual mouse.

"Working with an unstressed, group-housed cohort of mice that train themselves at the time of day that suits them, without the intervention of researchers over long periods of time, makes our experiments better and more efficient," Schaefer said.

Researchers described the new smart house for mice this week in the journal PLOS One.

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