Today’s sermon

Scientists have bred mice to be schizophrenic, according to the BBC. What? Well, “mimic schizophrenia?” What? In mice?

There seems to be an ingrained monotheistic-religion-originated view that man is master of the universe and everything else is here just for us to pull its wings off. This isn’t a particulalrly heinous example but it ‘s set me off….

US scientists have genetically modified mice to exhibit both the anatomical and behavioural defects associated with the complex condition schizophrenia.
Previous studies that rely on drugs can only mimic the symptoms of the disease, such as delusions and paranoia.

Well, straight off, I am impressed that the anatomical basis of human schizophrenia seems to have been clearly identified and even located in genetics. Or is that not the implication? This seems to be

a key gene – dubbed DISC 1 – which makes a protein that helps nerve cells assume their proper positions in the brain.

So messing about with this protein in mice, by genetic engineering, makes them also “schizophrenic”?

In what meaningful sense can a mouse be said to be “schizophrenic”? I am completely baffled. Isn’t schizophrenia characterised by a whole collection of feelings and behaviours that are most definitely human? So how did these manifest themselves in the mad mice?

As these mice matured, they became more agitated when placed in an open field, had trouble finding hidden food, and did not swim as long as regular mice – behaviours that echo the hyperactivity, smell defects and apathy observed in schizophrenia patients.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) also revealed characteristic defects in brain structure, including enlarged lateral ventricles, a region that circulates the spinal fluid and helps protect against physical trauma

OK, on the Frankenstein Scale (TM me) of mad science, this scores relatively low (say, a mere 2 out of 10.) This might prove that the observed brain damage relates to the actions of that specific gene.

But on the WTF scale (TM me) this scores pretty creditably (say, 8 out of 10)

In what way can the mouse behaviour be seen as “schizophrenic?”
Anxiety? I can’t even hazard a meaningful guess about how you determine this in mice ( “So do you feel agrophobic about being in an open field, Jerry?”)
Swam for a shorter time? Well, that’s me buggered then, if anyone tries to extrapolate back from the mouse “schizophrenia” to humans. Because I can barely swim at all. My best attempts lead to me going backwards at a rate of knots for a few minutes. Then giving up. In fact, giving up several hours before any of the people I’ve ever accidentally been “swimming” with who swim at national club level. (One of whom was once diagnosed as schizophrenic ….)
Trouble finding hidden food? Hmm, don’t think I’ve looked recently. Make that lost keys and I could probably out-mad the mice again.

These behaviours may indeed be wierd for mice. They can’t apply to humans or, if you try, they don’t correlate with “schizophrenia” at all. So, why breed some unfortunate mice to suffer brain disease, then kill them to check if their brains were damaged?

Is the scientific ethics bar set so high that a stilt-walker could pass through without needing to bend at the knees?