The strangest place I’ve ever reworked a protocol

20 08 2019

Adding to my ‘unusual places’ theme, last week I found myself exchanging text after text about experimental design while perched on a 17th century windowsill surrounded by stuffed stags’ heads. The venue? The fabulously eccentric, run-down pile of Calke Abbey.


And the reason? Another mistake in the ‘judgment bias’ study, spotted in time but needing a swift, nimble solution that could accommodate A & A’s growing exhaustion, the extinction of some mice to the unreinforced ambiguous cue, and noisy renovations planned in the CAF on Monday (by which time this experiment had been supposed to be safely over).

We pulled it off, all will be well, and the experiment will be good  (if very unlikely to validate the task). But the surreal final twist was that the mouse retraining that had to happen on the noisy Monday was accompanied by the faint sound of drilling, which apparently sounded like crying. So, Augustina, Aileen and Sylvia  each thought one of the others was quietly weeping. Now that’s judgment bias! These women need a well-deserved rest, that’s for sure.

Postcard from Bergen

20 08 2019


From Michelle, at the end of the recent ISAE conference:

Screenshot 2019-08-20 16.17.18

She got to visit Howard Browman’s aquaculture research facility too. I so wish I could have made both, but I was saving my energy for a UK trip (and also for ISAE next year in … Bangalore!).

Below, Maria at her poster on mink thermoregulation, both Ms looking stunning at the banquet, and Bergen itself:



Extra blocking factor

9 08 2019

A miscommunication this week led to half our judgment bias mice getting trained on the wrong stimuli for 3 days (apparently they were visibly confused).


Luckily A & A caught it in time, and the mice have bounced back on track once re-exposed to their original training stimuli. But looking ahead to the stats, whether or not they were affected by this, um, screw up, definitely has to be added to the models now.


The cold tails and ears of little hot mice

3 08 2019

Continuing with the theme “messing about with FLIR”, summer student Sylvia is getting the knack of capturing our fast-moving mice with this slow-responding camera. We hope that this can ultimately become a way to assess acute sympathetic responses (and in a far less invasive way than using implants). But meanwhile, enjoy the cold tail tips and ear margins of these warm little mousies:

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Text of the week (don’t look at if eating)

3 08 2019

This was quite the text to wake up to, from potential new PhD student Prathipa:


Prathipa’s trying to assay corticosteroid metabolites in the faeces of group-housed monkeys at her local zoo. But how to tell one turd from the other? That is the question.

Answer: Feed individual monkeys treats dosed with colour-coded glitter (a clever trick taught me by past student Jessica)!

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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9 07 2019

Aileen and Agustina have just started training our new mice for a judgment bias task they hope to validate over the next few weeks. And Agustina is feeling… well, you can see it!