In my last post I quoted one of my favorite sayings, “When the bow is beneath the waves, follow the rats,” which is based on a slightly less melodious quote by Claude Swanson–a lifelong politician and Secretary of the Navy under FDR.
The obvious interpretation is that it’s wise to abandon ship when even the rats know it is a lost cause. It turns out that it’s also wise advice to follow the rats when it comes to a sinking gene pool as well:
Female mice can identify inbred males by their scent
Liverpool, UK – 18 April 2008: Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that female mice avoid mating with inbred males by ‘sensing’ the diversity of a protein type in their urine.
Researchers found that major urinary proteins (MUPs) – the main protein component of mouse urine – are less varied in inbred male mice compared to outbred males, a distinction female mice are able to make through ‘counting’ the protein types in the urine.
So far MUPs have only been discovered in rodents – where they function as a genetic signal for social and mate choices – but scientists believe that similar signals are likely to be present in other vertebrates.
Dr Michael Thom, from the University’s Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group, explains: “Inbreeding is often avoided in animals because it can lead to health problems in offspring, but despite this inbreeding can sometimes still occur. Why female mice would want to avoid inbred males is still uncertain, however, but it is interesting that it is certainly something of importance to them. The work raises the question, if this is important in mice, are there mechanisms in place to help others animals and humans make similar distinctions between outbred and inbred males?
How fitting that the humble little rodent–who has done as much good for the advancement of human health in recent years as they did evil by harboring the flea that carried the black plague in past centuries–is once again showing us the way.
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