Hi folks! The theme of my Linky and the Brain this week is: model organisms, a love/hate relationship.
First off, I will direct you to Kelly Zalocusky’s hot-off-the-presses Neuroblog post, Of Mice and Men: On the Validity of Animal Models of Psychiatric Disease. Kelly discusses the difference between homology and analogy, and how the distinction between the two may be at the heart of why the translation between model organism and human disease state is such a difficult one. My newest goal for the Neuroblog is to start getting some conversations going in the comments – can we all meet up at Kelly’s post and chat about evaluating our model systems in terms of homology/analogy? I, for one, think about this question often (read: whenever I’m writing a grant). I’d love to learn where other folks are on the axis of “strive to be as close to the human disease state as possible so as to increase chances of translation” versus “not-strictly homologous/translation-able is fine, as long as we are learning basic things about the brain that will reasonably contribute to our greater understanding of how brains work”.
On the subject of model organisms, and more accurately dissatisfaction with model organisms, I read, with great interest, an article in the New York Times about researchers who develop allergies during the course of their research, to model organisms or common lab substances. Now, this concept is hardly new to me, or likely to anyone who has ever worked in a rodent lab. (I work closely with a postdoc who is so allergic to rodents he wears Teflon-coated gloves when handling them, to prevent contact/scratches.) What I found so interesting, was that the New York Times published the article in the first place; a trend piece about the travails of the common researcher. Awesome.
To read about a researcher who became allergic to cicadas, plus other stories, check out Allergies in the Time of Research, by Hillary Rosner.
One more feature regarding model organisms, this time my own. From the blog Last Word on Nothing, a delightful post describing the glory that is The Art of Chicken Sexing. Go for a description of a process so mysterious, that even the practitioners themselves can’t describe what they are looking for. Stay for the quotes from folks for whom the process of chicken sexing has become either an addiction, or a compulsion (or both).
And lastly, a hysterically funny post by scicurious, over at Scientopia, entitled Mopey Mice Pee Their Feelings. A blog post that is all about a novel method for evaluating the anxiety/depression in rodents. The method: urine tracking. Some of my favorite quotes from the post:
To introduce the concept of rodent urination:
"If you've held a lot of mice, you've been peed on a lot. Everywhere you put a mouse, that mouse WILL pee. It's part of the game and one of the things you get used to (probably one of the things we should warn new grad students about, too. "Congratulations! Be prepared to be peed on!")."
To describe a figure of the urination pattern of a "control" mouse:
"… a mouse I would have nicknamed "the dragger". He doesn't sprinkle it around, he DRAGS it around, and he is letting that lady know that he is HERE and READY."
"It's like mousey feelings on paper."