The benefits of stroking mice

30 06 2015

Screenshot 2015-06-30 21.32.13As well as making hamsters thin, stroking can be rewarding for mice apparently (here’s a link about a paper I missed a couple of years ago on place preference conditioning), and new research shows it can even boost their immune systems.

What’s surprising to me about this last study is that stroking mice with gloved fingers was more effective than stroking them with a paintbrush, even though gloves can have a rather ‘rubbery’ feel you’d think would pull on their fur. Wonder how this compares to real allo-grooming?

Danish defence

30 06 2015

I’m at Aarhus University’s research centre in Foulum right now, for Britt Henriksen’s defence. It was a very nice day, which made up for the hideous 15 hour journey (the nadir being 8 hours on a packed plane, stuck in the seat next to a loo that was horribly heavily visited all night due to several cases of food poisoning). (This reminds me: last time I visited Foulum I swore I never would again! Oops).

Britt worked with Steen Moller to refine the Welfare-Quality-based ‘Welfur‘ on farm assessment protocol, trying to work out if any of the planned assessment periods can be cut (possibly winter, since the after effects of restricted feeding then show up during the breeding season), and the extent to which it matters when in the breeding season a farm is assessed (it matters, unfortunately). She also did some qualitative work asking farmers about their experiences swapping ideas at so-called “stable schools”.

She did a very good job in the defence, and as always, it was nice see the student gradually relaxing as they realize they really did think hard about every decision over the previous 3 years. In Britt’s case this meant she gradually moved from standing rather rigidly behind the desk, to moving in front of the desk to be closer to us, and finally sitting on the desk smiling and waving her hands at us. Here she is at the end, with me and her other examiner, IRTA (Spain)’s Antonio Verlade, and below that, receiving one of a big pile of presents during the reception afterwards (here from Bente Krogh Hansen, with Jens Malmkvist in the background).

Britt post defence

Pressies for Britt

Our new boys

28 06 2015

– using their raised platforms already. Pastel males are just like big teddy bears (shame they’re not quite as cuddly as they look).


Pastel male in bridge

Gonna get me some worry beads

28 06 2015

At the whiteboard

28 06 2015

Very behind with my serious posts (as ever) but want to put this nice picture up before I lose track of it: Maria and Mike explaining the maths in ‘Why most published research findings are false‘.


Mink road trip

27 06 2015

Maria did a 14 hour road trip over Thursday and Friday to pick our next batch of mink up from Wisconsin. These were 128 young male Pastels, donated by a farm to support our cage size project.

As well as donating the animals, these farmers really helped Maria finetune the trip: “They made new transport cages for us as they thought the trailer was gonna be bad, they had prepared giant ice cubes for the trip to have on top of water, and they made a sort of cover so that it’d be darker in there for the mink while still having air flow, etc. They were super nice and sensible, really caring for their animals, very interested in research and overall amazing!”

On the truck:

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In their new homes (either a Canadian [e.g. 6] or Danish size [e.g. 5] cage):


Charles River Short Course

27 06 2015

Last week I spent five days in Boston again (well, a conference centre in Newton; I still have no real idea what Boston is like) at the Charles River Short Course – an extension meeting for animal techs and lab animal vets to get continuing education.

Most fun was spending time with Joe Garner, Cheryl Meehan, Brianna Gaskill (“Grannyyyyyyy!!!!”) and San Diego Zoo’s Greg Vicino. Joe and I are designing an experiment to see if ‘roughened’ enrichments (e.g. running wheels lined with sandpaper) would reduce nail length in mice, which in turn might reduce the harmful self-scratching that causes ulcerative dermatitis. So it was fun to plot about that. And Brianna has two students of her own now (both masters: Amy Robinson-Junker, looking at the effect of enrichment and tech disturbance on sleep [the project I wanted Elke to do!], and Megan LaFollette, studying rat tickling and the human-animal bond). That makes me a great-grandmother!

quad_isolator_250I also went on the facility tour this time. Interesting, but it mainly just made me sad. A warehouse-like room was full of isolators stacked floor to ceiling (almost Matrix-like), housing some 300 000 rodents. Bad enough seeing the tiny cages with negligible enrichment, but all made much worse knowing what a very flawed process science is.

Picking mouse brains

27 06 2015

Last week I ordered several hundred dollars worth of immunoglobulins and other stuff to stain for ‘delta fos B’: a marker of long-term neuronal activation that Danielle and I hope will identify parts of the basal ganglia involved in mouse stereotypic behaviour.

This was nerve-wracking as the university is a complicated place to deliver to (as it was the parcels accidentally arrived with two different addresses on them: horribly risky), and I had visions of them sitting on a loading dock heating up in the sun (something that happened to a load of frozen mink brains Maria and I once sent to Florida, and it ruined them). It was also a surreal experience, as one of the items was Picking micegoat serum: very witchy (I nearly insisted the goat was black).

Next step was to pick the specific brains most suited to address this question (non-stereotypers who differ in SB, one per cage to avoid pseudoreplication; we can’t use enriched mice as a control as they did too much wheel-running and this activates similar areas to those we’re interested in); to also pick differential wheel-runners who will help us validate the staining; and then from the leftovers, to pick some ‘practice brains’ for Danielle to refine the basic techniques on. She’s already emailed several labs for their protocols so we should be OK, but IHC seems a tricky and idiosyncratic business (‘works best when bench oriented north-south’: that sort of weirdness).

Anti-CV more stellar then ever

27 06 2015

BMC Biology said our spilt-plot paper was not for them, but have re-routed it to their sister journal BMC Medical Research Methododology.

We’re back in the realm of normal impact factors now (BMC Biology‘s is 7+, Nature Methods‘ I don’t even want to think about); this new journal’s IF is 2.27.  By now I don’t care – just want this lovely paper to get out there and see the light of day.

If they say no too, then JALAAS? At least the readers of that will definitely be enthusiastic.

Laptop duet

27 06 2015

Working through some stats with Walter in the Ox tea room (we’re trying to find out which self-reported feelings best explain discriminative operant behaviour in drug studies run by the well-named “Rush lab“, University of Kentucky).