Advertisement
Motherboard

‘mouseTube’ Is Like Pornhub for Mouse Research

Like a tube site, but for mice.

by Sarah Emerson
Aug 13 2016, 3:00pm

Did this mouse just get caught looking at mouseTube? Image: Shutterstock

A few years ago, scientists encountered an extremely hip problem. You know, the one where you wanna listen to a new indie album, but the band is too obscure for streaming music sites. So, what do you? You probably torrent it, right?

This is precisely what French biologists did upon realizing the internet was devoid of mouse songs. Yes, mouse songs—the ultrasonic serenades of tiny, horny rodents. Instead of hunting around for rare mouse EPs, they created mouseTube, which is a torrenting site for mice vocalizations.

"Up to now, we are about 60 members registered in mouseTube, over five continents. All are scientists, except one person who is interested in animal communication on a personal level and two journalists—one interested in recordings of ultrasonic vocalisations and the other interested in mouseTube itself [author's note: it's not me]," Elodie Ey, mouseTube's co-creator and geneticist at the Institut Pasteur, told me over email.

As it turns out, female mice can be seduced by the ballads of their male counterparts, although these love songs are too high-pitched to be heard by the human ear. According to a study published in 2015 to Frontiers of Behavioral Science, mice are able to communicate on an ultrasonic level, and display a linguistic sophistication akin to birds, whales, and even primates.

To scientists like Ey, whose own research focuses on the genetic causes of autism disorders, mouse vocalizations can serve as a proxy for social communication among humans.

In 2008, Ey said she was recruited by the Institut Pasteur "to study genetically modified mice carrying mutations in genes associated with autism, to serve as models to better understand the mechanisms leading genetic mutations to behavioural abnormalities and, in the end, find and test therapeutic strategies for patients with autism spectrum disorders."

Since atypical socialization is a characteristic of autism disorders, researchers investigated how the songs of genetically modified mice differed from those without gene mutations associated with autism.

During her research, Ey was shocked to discover that mouse vocalizations are as diverse as their singers. Indeed, subsequent studies have suggested that mice possess unique vocal signatures, and that the complexity of their songs could be connected to cognitive abilities such as memory.

Without mouseTube, these revelations might never have surfaced. I stumbled upon the file-hosting site somewhat by accident, and like many online forums, its origin story is perhaps more interesting than the community itself.

According to a very educational video, titled "introduction to mouseTube," the site hopes to boost knowledge about mouse communication by letting scientists access "more data than they could possible gather in just their lab."

In theory, a scientist in Spain would upload a recording to mouseTube servers, after filling out a set of corresponding metadata. Then, another scientist in Japan could download the file and apply it to their research. The benefits of this are increased collaboration between international scientists, and greater access to open data.

"We presented the first draft of a database at that meeting, since we noticed that each lab was working on its own, which leads to a lack of analytical power and reproducibility. This database was designed to boost knowledge on mouse ultrasonic communication by facilitating collaborative studies through the sharing of mouse ultrasonic recording files," Ey added.

The project is hosted and financed by the Institut Pasteur, a Paris-based nonprofit that helps to prevent and treat diseases through education initiatives.

As of now, mouseTube hosts 385 recording files that were uploaded by two scientists only. Pull your weight, other mouseTubers! Ey told me they currently lack a cohesive communication strategy, and most of their subscribers joined after hearing about it at conferences.

Since mouseTube is accessible by subscription only, I'm afraid you'll have to see for yourself what the site entails. But if it's any consolation, the internet is already full of mouse tubes.