Bioengineered mouse sings like a bird, may be developing language

Scientists in Japan have accidentally mutated all the squeak out of this cute little mouse, and it now tweets like a bird instead, which could be the beginnings of a simple language.

Researchers at the University of Osaka weren't trying to create a singing mouse, it just sort of happened. While studying how evolution works, they were breeding a particular kind of mouse that tends to mis-copy its own DNA, making genetic mutations more likely. They ended up with some mice with short limbs and some mice with stubby tails, but one of the mutated mice turned out to have the ability to tweet like a bird.

What's weird and exciting about this is that it's not just that the mouse sounds different; it acts differently as well. Normal mice only squeak when they're under stress, but like birds, this mouse seems to sing all the time. And when birds sing, they're using a structured language of sorts, with words and phrases that other birds can learn and understand. So the big question is, is this singing mouse developing the rudiments of a mouse language?

If so, the research team is hoping that these mice will provide clues about how language evolved in mammals, and the end goal of all of this should be obvious:

Uchimura dreams of further 'evolution' of mice through genetic engineering. 'I know it's a long shot and people would say it's 'too absurd'... but I'm doing this with hopes of making a Mickey Mouse some day,' he said.

And if you're at all skeptical about rodents developing language, check out this BBC article on prairie dogs. They're thought to have a spoken vocabulary that's more sophisticated than either monkeys or dolphins. Not bad for a bunch of squabbly little furballs, huh?

Experience the singing mouse for yourself in the video below.

AFP, via Physorg

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