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The Science Blog

19/03/2013

Mice killed in pointless human evolution study

A group of international researchers from the USA, China and the UK (University College London) have used mice in a bizarre study to demonstrate an aspect of human evolution. 

Some Asian people carry a mutated version of a gene that is known to play a key role in the development of hair, sweat glands and other skin features. The mutation is common in people from East Asia and is thought to have arisen 30,000 years ago as an adaptation to the humid environment. To demonstrate the effects of the mutation, the researchers genetically modified mice to possess the mutated gene. As expected, the mice developed thicker hair, more sweat glands and denser mammary glands. The 6-week old animals were then killed and their eyelids, mammary glands and skin were dissected for examination. 

This type of curiosity-driven research is totally unacceptable and is a worrying example of the desire by some scientists to ‘prove’ their ideas using animals. In fact, after conducting the mouse tests, the researchers went on to examine the fingertips of Chinese volunteers and confirmed that those carrying the mutated gene had more sweat glands, rendering the mouse tests even more pointless. 

Sources:

1. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1302/120215-animal-model-of-human-evolution-indicates-thick-hair-mutation-emerged-30000-years-ago

2. Modelling recent human evolution in mice by expression of a selected EDAR variant. (2013). Cell 152, 691-702. Original study found here.

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