Scientists Activate Predatory Killer Instinct In Mice Using Lasers

Posted: Jan 13 2017, 7:53am CST | by , Updated: Jan 13 2017, 7:58am CST, in Latest Science News


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Scientists Activate Predatory Killer Instinct in Mice Using Lasers
A mouse demonstrating instinctual predatory behavior with a cricket. Credit: Ivan de Araujo
  • Predatory Killer Instinct Activated in Mice via Laser

Researchers have found out how to activate the hunting instinct in mice in a lab setting.

The experts have mapped the brain circuitry that is responsible for the killer instinct in mice. A series of neurons in the amygdala, which is the brain center for emotional reactions and motivation, tells the mouse to turn towards its prey in an attack mode. There is another signal that alerts the mouse to use its jaw and neck muscles to bite and kill the prey.

The methodology employed was optogenetics. This way particular neurons are allowed to fire upon the stimulus of light signals. Each set of neurons could be pinpointedly activated using this mechanism.

When researchers switched the laser light off, the mice behaved normally. Yet when it was turned on, they became killing machines. These mice became literally out-of-control aggressors that went after and bit into anything and everything from pieces of plastic to wooden objects.

Once the laser was turned on, these mice went berserk and started attacking and mauling like there was no tomorrow. They tried to grab hold of and annihilate anything that stood in their way be it an inanimate object or an animate being.

The comparison of this situation of the mice to the Walking Dead is limited though. Their predatory behavior is far more complex than just a pure aggressive drive.

This repertoire of fighting skills are common to other animals as well and even found on a rudimentary level in human beings. The set of skills needed for hunting and killing prey are such that they play an important role in the evolution of the brain.

It has been supposed that there are submerged connections between the neurons and the neck and jaw muscles responsible for biting and killing.

Yet, and here was the rub, the mice didn’t attack other mice that were with them inside the cage. Hunger levels also had a remarkable effect on these mice.

The hungrier they were, the more avidly they pursued their prey. If they didn’t have much of an appetite, then they didn’t go after their prey so quickly or with much motivation.

Food requirement seems to be linked with this killer instinct. Normally the mice eat the food pellets thrown their way in the cage. The more natural behavior found in the wild is one of hunting and killing.

The amygdala was the central hub and command center where all the motivation to just go for it began in the first place. Scientists also found out that if they induced lesions in the amygdala region, the mice would pursue their prey but not kill it in the end.

Findings of this study got published in the journal Cell.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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