Japanese researchers say they've created a mouse that sings like a bird. They say the development could shed light on the evolution of human language - and, they suggest, lead to the creation of a talking mouse.
The team at Osaka University's Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences in western Japan was working with a group of genetically modified mice prone to mutation. While they were expecting mice to appear with different body shapes, the singing mouse was something of a surprise.
"We checked the newly born mice one by one," lead researcher Arikuni Uchimura told AFP. "One day we found a mouse that was singing like a bird." He said the trait is passed on to future generations and that the lab now has more than 100 mice chorusing away.
Uchimura says the mice could prove useful in researching the origins of human language. "Mice are better than birds to study because they are mammals and much closer to humans in their brain structures and other biological aspects," he said.
Uchimura said that there appears to be a social aspect to the mice's songs - unlike the squeaking of normal mice, which generally happens only under stress.
The tweeting mice, by contrast, sing more loudly when they are put in different environments or when males are put together with females, indicating that the sounds could represent some sort of expression of their emotions or bodily condition.
The team has discovered that ordinary mice which grew up with singing mice emitted fewer ultrasounds than others, which Uchimura says could indicate that communication methods can spread amongst a group.
In the long term, Uchimura says he hopes that genetic engineering of mice could go rather further.
"I know it's a long shot and people would say it's 'too absurd'... but I'm doing this with hopes of making a Mickey Mouse some day," he told AFP.