Cold, rotund, abnormal, male, poorly surviving, enclosed and depressed…

31 01 2020


What about “Cold, abnormal, grumpy, enclosed and depressed“: CAGED?

This is Jamie and I trying to come up with a phrase that captures the likely external validity problems of rodent models, while also being as punchy as the “WEIRD” acronym that so beautifully captured the same concern for human psychology subjects. Oh yes, and it also has to be scientifically accurate, and not ridiculously forced.

So far I’d say we need to go back to the drawing board, and that I, for one, really need to stop giggling.

Screenshot 2020-01-30 21.50.55

Multiplex success!

31 01 2020

Aileen, with help from Niel Karrow‘s able technician Kristen, finally got to use our free new Millipore kit. 

In the bottom image, Aileen explains: “This is the magnet that attracts the ‘beads’ that bind to the cytokines in the assay. Each type of bead only binds with one specific cytokine. When the plate of samples incubated with beads is placed on the magnet, this allows us to wash away other substances, while still holding the beads and cytokines in place. But the way we do this is just flipping it upside down over the sink to get the liquid out. You have to trust that the magnet is doing its job, and you’re not literally pouring thousands of dollars down the drain!”  Augh!



But it DID do its job, and this time detectable TNF-a was present in all of our samples! Most values were still out of range for IL-1B and IL-6, but we’re sending the data to Millipore so they can analyse them with software better able to detect subtle, low level signals through noise.

And then after that, we’ll at last be able to compare the values from our mice from different housing conditions and with varying degrees of inactive-but-awake behaviour (as well as finally knowing for sure which kit to buy next time). Fingers very tightly crossed!

“Look! Olfactory bulbs!!”

30 01 2020


= text of the week from Michelle, who’s learning to dissect out zebra fish brains (from culled surplus animals from the Hagen Lab). This is because we’re testing the hypothesis that the most welfare-enhancing enrichments have the greatest cognitive and neurological benefits: in other words, that being happy makes you smart.  The brains themselves are tiny, delicate structures no bigger than half a grain of rice, so extracting the olfactory bulbs intact is a triumph of steady hands and precision cutting!

Our baby fish settle in

25 01 2020

All safely weighed and measured by Team Z, our 400 new fish now have to do nothing for 3 months except develop, grow, and hopefully react to the properties of their new homes. These range from their predecessors’ most preferred option (gravel and multiple plants) to the least preferred (a bare tank: the normal lab experience), with ‘just gravel’ and ‘just plants’ as their second and third choices.



How stress can give you grey hairs

25 01 2020

Nice coverage of a new Nature paper here from the BBC:

(We did look for greying in our middle aged differentially housed mice but no differences, sadly; we think they weren’t yet old enough)

Bernie Sanders sighted in Guelph

18 01 2020

OK it was just in a talk, but still it was fun to get a dash of politics and social commentary in an already entertaining seminar on social learning.

The speaker? The outrageously polymath (polymathic?) Noam Miller, covering the tensions between individual motivation and knowledge versus the lure of the group (in a talk for the NACS series). The followed a really useful committee meeting for Michelle (with other committee member Fred Laberge, but Victoria sadly missing and missed); and was followed by a delicious and intellectual supper at Bin 23 with him, Elena and Pat Barclay.

Bernie Sanders

How to be happy in 2020

18 01 2020

Many of the usual recommendations in a single article (though I’m not sure I’m convinced about furniture with corners!):

Sam makes my morning…

15 01 2020

… with a cheerful update from DC and awesome news of a gorgeous bobcat sighting by his new employers, “DC Cat Count”:



Standard cages shorten lives

15 01 2020

Our final mouse survival data: the effect’s not huge, nor original, but it’s real:

Summary survival slide

Go Team Z!

15 01 2020

After a long day in tropical heat, fabulous work study students Alexia Abbruzzese (left), Emily Merry (middle) and Jaqui Pallarca (right) celebrate having rehomed 400 zebra fish in stage two of Michelle‘s rearing experiment.


We were planning for 800 zebra fish, not 400. But just days before the scheduled pick-up, we again hit problems: it turned out that only half the number we’d ordered were actually available (“they’re so small it’s hard to count them” being Quote of the Year so far).  But with 150 fish or so already now safely raised in differential housing (phew), it just took some vicious swearing and some lightening quick decisions to avert disaster: great experiment (albeit simplified) still on track.