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Mice Now With Human Language Gene

A strain of mice has been genetically engineered to carry the human version of a gene called FOXP2, which is linked to speech.

According to the New York Times, "the human version of FOXP2 seemed to substitute perfectly for the mouse version in all the mouse's tissues except for the brain."

In a region of the brain called the basal ganglia, known in people to be involved in language, the humanized mice grew nerve cells that had a more complex structure. Baby mice utter ultrasonic whistles when removed from their mothers. The humanized baby mice, when isolated, made whistles that had a slightly lower pitch, among other differences, says [Wolfgang Enard, a scientist at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, who led the work].

I can't quite decide whether this is science-fictional (like the talking mice in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Disney (like the ones who helped Cinderella).

Update: Thanks also to a reader who wrote in to point out that movie Secret of N.I.M.H and the original book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH also dealt with the subject of mice who had their natural characteristics altered in lab experiments.

Via Technology Review; thanks to Ja Thavia for the tip.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/31/2009)

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