Breeding Alcoholic Mice

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It’s one of those “Huh?” moments. They come with the first description of scientific work that doesn’t make much sense. This time, it’s a scientist who’s bred a line of alcoholism-prone mice.

The mouse model is an important investigatory tool in the scientific arsenal. They offer an inexpensive way to experiment and, because you can have a genetically identical line of mice, others can duplicate the work. This particular family of mice has been selectively bred to “like” alcohol in a way that is very similar to how humans approach it.

The critical advantage is how the mice in this group don’t need to be force fed alcohol, or need to be artificially addicted to it. Just like in humans, this strain will binge drink and consume alcoholic beverages on their own chronically. In fact, some of them are better alcoholics than we are – consuming more alcohol on a weight basis than most alcoholics do.

So what’s the point, besides giving researchers a handy model? Well, since mice are similar to humans genetically (about 80% identical), the idea is to test which genes may be turned off to reduce their cravings. It would be unethical to do many of the studies in humans, so drugs and treatments can be first evaluated in these mice.

They start out with a propensity to become alcoholic, just like many humans do. What we want to know is how to cure that. If we can do it in these mice, we have a chance of doing it in humans as well.

An article in Science News Daily reports that it took 40 generations of selective breeding to capture the behavior. They’ve been in the works for the last 14 years. Ideally, this line will now be available for addiction research across the country.

Not such a weird idea after all.

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