For 100 million rodents a year: what are we getting?

According to two recent studies (Carbone 2004, Balcombe, 2005), the United States now leads the world in the consumption of yet one more thing: Rodents. Specifically, for our purposes, mice--the usage of which now tallies near 80 million per annum in the US. In fact, our usage has been soaring while consumption by the other big mouse user, the EU, has actually been shrinking, partly because of new EU regulations, and partly because of growing doubts about at least some of the mus's worthiness as a test animal for toxicity and carcinogenicity.

Everywhere you go in modern bioscience America, in fact, the mouse is king: it is, as a number of industry leaders have said, almost impossible to build vivariums fast enough. The money is so big that even hot shot architecture firms are getting into the viviarium design business ( see: Quickly and surely, mouse-based lab science, like so any other things in today's modern, performance-based world,  is being commodified. And depending upon the lab, the instititution that sponsors it, and the investigator driving such experiments, the mouse now serves as an outstanding science proxy for man, or as fast food for scientific careerism.

I am hoping that this blog serves as a point of discussion for these fascinating trends--and for the musification of the biological sciences.

It seems to me a most worthwhile discussion, and I am hoping it can be civil but pointed, humane but not sentimental, and, when neccessary, contrarian and even irreverent as hell. Among -- but not limited to--the questions I would like to hear comment on are:

1. Why, given the vast upsurge in concern about animal welfare, is there no parallel upsurge when it comes to mice? To what degree has this been engineered by the lab industry, and to what degree does this neglect rest on something else--human nature, consumerism, fellow-primate love, etc? And: are mice really all that different from, say, non-human primates when it comes to pain and suffering?

2. To what degree is the mouse responsible for big science's entry into the modern "story-telling economy," where the ability to sell a narrative--in this case "knockout mouse x + pharma compound Y=mechanism K, deserving of NIH grant Z?"--seems to reign supreme, just as it does in Hollywood or on Wall Street?

3. If the mouse/transgene/lab system is so great, why are all the pharma pipelines empty?

4. Should mice be regulated under the Animal Welfare Act, as are all other sujects save the rat and the bird?

5. What does the accumulated wisdom about murine behaviour tell us about the way modern humans behave, with specific references to specific events? Such as: post-911 society, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression,and, less seriously but, as I am open to mus-o-morphism ( as opposed to anthropomorphism), stupid political leadership, idiotic celebrity worship and mindless consumerism?

Let me say here: I am not interested in animal rights. I am just not willing to read Heidegger or Kierkegaard, let alone Peter Singer. LITS (Life is too short.)

I am interested in animal welfare issues.

I am not interested in anti-pharma rants.

I am  interested in how pharma uses mice for specific disease groups, and how well those projects are going.

Without a doubt, we are on the verge of the greatest scientific epoch ever. Let's explore together the question: is the mouse up to it? And: Are we up to the mouse?

Greg Critser