On any given day at any given hour, Auburn University students could be up to just about anything. While some pore over differential equations and others perfect their clay sculpture, a select few are up to their ankles in, well, mice.
The “Mouse House,” as it is affectionately called is a research lab run by Dr. Wendy Hood, assistant professor of biological sciences.
“If you are keeping an animal in a box, it has no choices of food and it has a very unnatural social setting,” Hood said. “I wanted to come up with a nice set up that took the best of a field type situation with an animal that we know really well [mice].”
Hood set out to create barn-like living conditions for the mice and the Mouse House was the result. Inside there are ten different enclosures accommodating seven to 12 adult mice per population. Life history patterns of animals interests Hood, and she is studying these mice to determine why some live longer than others.
“There appears to be trade-offs between reproduction and longevity,” Hood said. “Individuals that breed more rapidly tend to have shorter lives. We are interested in the mechanisms, or what is responsible, for that individual variation.”
The mice studied are wild mice. They are not your typical, sci-fi looking lab rats with snow-white fur and red beady eyes. These tiny creatures are brown, fluffy and similar to those you might find in your shed, or worse case scenario, kitchen.
Adam Lucy, senior in Organismal Biology and future student of University of Alabama Medical School of Medicine beginning fall 2015, started working in the Mouse House summer semester, 2014.
“It wasn’t required for my major to do research but one of my friends was working in Dr. Hood’s lab and she told me about it,” Lucy said. “It relates to pre-med students because of the animals and physiology.”
Lucy is just one of a group of 12 to 20 students working in the lab in any given semester. The majors of these students range from biology to human nutrition to pre-medical. Students are assigned tasks and collect data for a larger, on-going project.
“I rotate my time between the actual lab in Funchess Hall, doing gel electrophoresis,and the house, showing newer workers how to keep the animals happy and how to count the mice pups.”
Hood said she hopes students will utilize the skills obtained in her lab in their careers after college.
“Many of the students who come out of my lab will be going on to either veterinarian school or medical school,” Hood said. “Those students, having some understanding of the process and of the information they obtain, will be able to apply that when treating patients. I hope it helps them with that.”
Top right: Wendy Hood, image source
Middle left: Photographer, Adam Lucy
Bottom right: Photographer, Brenna Seymour
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