Good Nature article on the Porsolt Test

18 07 2019

Great article on another suspect test the biomed community (especially in the university system) is wedded to far more than it deserves:

We use it ourselves, because it’s quick, a convention, and seems less unpleasant for the mice than the “tail suspension test” (which we’ve decided we won’t do). But believe it? Not really sure, our main concern being one they didn’t list here: that chubby mice are really, really buoyant, and, well, floaty….

Thanks to Andrea for the great find.

Quote of the week

18 07 2019

“David really, really doesn’t like three-ways”

– from Andrea, who’s back from Oregon¬†(and, she swears blind, was talking about statistical interactions).

‘Awake but motionless’ a sign of poor welfare in dogs?

17 07 2019


Animals just published a new paper by Carole Fureix and her collaborators.¬† Looking at 57 dogs in 7 shelters, they tried to find out whether spending inactive, despite being awake, might be a sign of depression (as may be so in our mice), or boredom (as might be true in at least some mink). The jury’s still out, but this is early stages. One interesting result was that dogs who’d been relinquished by their owners showed the most. It’s hard not to find that a little bit heart-breaking…



Standard lab cages make female mice aggressive

17 07 2019

Emma N’s paper is out already! Here is a link giving free full access for 45 days or so.

And the short answer to the question in the title is that we don’t know: we just couldn’t fully identify why enriched mice are so much more pacific than standard-caged females. Some of it was that crowding elevates encounter rates, but that wasn’t the full explanation. We suspect frustration and negative judgment biases, but that’s for future work… Meanwhile, just know that female mice sharing good environments are like the Golden Girls; but for those in standard cages, it’s all a bit more Orange is the New Black.

Screenshot 2019-07-15 19.11.21

Congratulations to Misha!

16 07 2019

About three weeks ago, Misha wound up his post-doc and left the lab to head north and build his mother a house. And already this is what he’s created!


I really don’t know what we’ll do without him when the zombie apocaplyse hits.

My first webinar

16 07 2019

Screenshot 2019-07-16 14.56.48I just gave my first ever webinar: one of a continuing education series organised with immense professionalism by Nicole Duffee and Ashlee Vaughn at AALAS. 58 facilities enrolled to see it, so they estimate that meant an audience of 580 (and yet more still will watch the recording)!

Just before starting, I couldn’t help laughing at my crazy-set up. Mission Control included a pile of notes (printed out because I couldn’t use ‘presenter view’) with pre-folded corners for maximum pick-up ease, to be moved one by one to the cushion for minimum rustling; not one but two post-its over the camera to prevent any accidental viewings (since I was distinctly unkempt); another post-it on the stand saying “LOCK HIM IN THE GARAGE!” (referring to Luke, who’s prone to fits of intense meowing [when he wants his bum slapped in the corridor: long story]); the headphones cord sellotaped on to make sure it didn’t slip out; tea; water; and emergency cheeses to the left (though what I thought I could actually do with these is really very unclear).


Anyway, all went well and I am now *exhausted*, ready to lie on a chaise longue while someone feeds me peeled grapes (though peeled BabyBels will do).

Bold and vague language wins men more grants

15 07 2019

A disturbing new study shows that women can lose out in grant competitions even when sexism and implicit bias are ruled out by blinding, because we use more “narrow” language. I’d love to read the paper (if I could cope with the crushing feeling this stuff always gives me), since I don’t quite get why “brain” is a narrow word and “bacteria” a broad one). But even without doing this, the findings resonate. As Nature puts it, pulling no punches, “men are more likely to boast”. So should women just start acting more like men? I really think it should be the other way around. Good coverage here and here



What a difference a hole makes

15 07 2019

Our large enriched cages (typically more full of clutter than seen here) always had one major disadvantage: if a mouse didn’t want to be caught, she could run and hide in object after object, and in extremis finally getting her might involve emptying half the cage. Emma N always felt this was why these cages didn’t seem to reduce anxiety as they should: catching enriched mice to test them was often a far more stressful process than catching the standard-housed mice.

Aileen and Agustina have now cleverly fixed this problem by turning one of Emma’s ideas into reality: fixing a standard cage to each enriched one, and training mice to be caught there.


I came in to drill the holes (satisfying debris: L), and then they sorted out the rest using old lab cages and tunnels from Mike Walker’s MSc days, each new extension neatly held in place by elastic and hooks (R).

Within just a few days, the enriched mice had learned to run in for treats, summoned by the rattling of the Cheerio jar. The small cage can then be “undocked”, the tunnel plugged up, and the now fairly confined mice caught with ease, quickly and calmly. Success!

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Congratulations to (Big) Emma

12 07 2019

… who got invited by BIAZA to give a keynote at their 2019 conference!

Emma M at BIAZA

Email of the week

12 07 2019

From Maria, as we discuss whether farmed mink take enrichments into their nestboxes because they naturally hoard their prey:

Screenshot 2019-07-11 22.05.52