‘Mus musculus’

Humans and mice each have 20-25,000 genes. 
Humans and mice share 99% of their genes.
‘Some researchers would argue that the most significant advance in understanding the molecular detail of how human beings work will come not with the completion of the human genome sequence but later with the completion of the mouse sequence.’ Medical Research Council, UK
“From mice to men is but an evolutionary hair’s breadth.” Matt Ridley, Science Writer

“The genomes of humans and mice are so similar that the best explanation for why a mouse develops into a mouse and not a human is that the genes are expressed at different times and possibly in different tissues.” Dr George B Johnson, Professor of Genetics, Wahsington University School of Medicine, US

‘Initial comparions show almost every gene in the mouse has a corresponding gene in humans – a 99 per cent similarity that should help to find the function of each human gene…. Man and mouse each have about 30,000 genes yet only 300 or so are unique to either species, underlying the value of the lab mouse as a ‘model’ for human genetics.’ The Independent newspaper, UK, 2004 

‘..a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.’ Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass: 31

"By doing a few experiments in a mouse you can get information on a disease that's going to impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people... Detailed analysis of organs tissues and cells reveals many similarities [with humans], extending to whole-organ systems, physiological homeostasis, reproduction, behaviour and disease. " Professor Allan Bradley, Director, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

‘…men are mere mice without tails.’ The Independent newspaper, UK, 2004

‘Conserved segments between human and mouse - Humans and mice shared a common ancestor about 100 Myr ago. Despite the 200 Myr of evolutionary distance between the species, a significant fraction of genes show synteny between the two, being preserved within conserved segments. Genes tightly linked in one mammalian species tend to be linked in others. In fact, conserved segments have been observed in even more distant species: humans show conserved segments with fish and even with invertebrates such as fly and worm’. International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium

‘Literally, comparative genomics allows one to link laboratory notebooks of clinical and basic researchers. With knowledge of both genomes, biomedical studies of human genes can be complemented by experimental manipulations of corresponding mouse genes to accelerate functional understanding. In this respect, the mouse is unsurpassed as a model system for probing mammalian biology and human disease. Its unique advantages include a century of genetic studies, scores of inbred strains, hundreds of spontaneous mutations, practical techniques for random mutagenesis, and, importantly, directed engineering of the genome through transgenic, knockout and knockin techniques. For these and other reasons, the Human Genome Project (HGP) recognized from its outset that the sequencing of the human genome needed to be followed as rapidly as possible by the sequencing of the mouse genome.’ Nature, 2003

‘The mouse genome has virtually the same gene content as the human genome, and these are found in the same order as in humans over quite large distances. The mouse genome is an excellent model for the human genome, and mouse genetics offers an opportunity to elucidate gene function by studying mutations in those genes.’  Medical Research Council, Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh, 2004 

‘‘With the recent publication of a draft sequence of the mouse genome, identification of the mutations underlying a vast number of interesting mouse phenotypes has similarly been greatly simplified. Comparison of the human and mouse sequences shows that the proportion of the mammalian genome under evolutionary selection is more than twice that previously assumed.’ A Vision for the Future of Genomics Research US National Human Genome Research Institute, 2003  

Mouse Clues 

‘About 1,200 new human genes have been discovered while mining the mouse genome.’ BBC News

I knew by the Bonsai hands – 
polite pink fingertip-holding 

of seed, like a delicate Duchess 
pinching porcelain cup handles; 

such finishing-school, princessly 
stripping, decorous, coy, nibbling. 

By crescent slivers; silver nail 
moons from a Lilliputian sea -

same baby-finger curl 
making me feel tender;

giant touching miniscule child -
imagining a smallest starry hand,

fairy skeleton, in the galactic, 
gloved, blood-star of my own.

I knew by the snappy, old-man skinny ankles,
sticking from too-short, dust-fur pantaloons -

wrists twigging from puffed silk, 
Elizabethan leg o’mutton sleeves - 

waxy, translucent, rollered-shell ears - 
dolly toe rows; the infant heel and ball.

And more than anything else, I knew
by interested listening - robin-cocked 

head alert - twitching, trembling - 
slight whisker-quiver fireworking 

silver star hair; the black mercury 
lentil eyes, all pupil and two stars -

shared light imprisoned there still, 
when I came home - gently spoke.

‘A number of examples of extended conserved segments and syntenies are apparent… As has been noted, almost all human genes on chromosome 17 are found on mouse chromosome 11, with two members of the placental lactogen family from mouse 13 inserted. Apart from two singleton loci, human chromosome 20 appears to be entirely orthologous to mouse chromosome 2, apparently in a single segment. The largest apparently contiguous conserved segment in the human genome is on chromosome 4, including roughly 90.5 Mb of human DNA that is orthologous to mouse chromosome 5.’ International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium

‘…queer little pink hands/ Little monkey’s hands very human I always think… but they’re dear little things/ I don’t mind what they nibble’. Mice are Funny Little Creatures, Uncollected, Ted Hughes

‘The extensive genomic similarity between mouse and human, combined with the ease of genetic manipulation in the mouse, make it an invaluable experimental system for elucidating the genetic determinants of disease. Even the differences in disease initiation and progression between mouse and human may yield insights that could be helpful in the prevention or treatment of human disease.’  Wellcome Trust  
‘The availability of a draft human genome sequence allows the first global human-mouse comparison in which human physical distances can be measured in Mb, rather than cM or orthologous gene counts. We identified likely orthologues by reciprocal comparison of the human and mouse mRNAs in the LocusLink database, using megaBLAST. For each orthologous pair, we mapped the location of the human gene in the draft genome sequence and then checked the location of the mouse gene in the Mouse Genome Informatics database. Using a conservative threshold, we identified 3,920 orthologous pairs in which the human gene could be mapped on the draft genome sequence with high confidence. Of these, 2,998 corresponding mouse genes had a known position in the mouse genome. We then searched for definitive conserved segments, defined as human regions containing orthologues of at least two genes from the same mouse chromosome region (< 15 cM) without interruption by segments from other chromosomes. We identified 183 definitive conserved segments. The average segment length was 15.4 Mb, with the largest segment being 90.5 Mb and the smallest 24 kb…’ International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium

‘ Starting from a common ancestral genome approximately 75 Myr, the mouse and human genomes have each been shuffled by chromosomal rearrangements. The rate of these changes, however, is low enough that local gene order remains largely intact. It is thus possible to recognize syntenic (literally 'same thread') regions in the two species that have descended relatively intact from the common ancestor…The earliest indication that genes reside in similar relative positions in different mammalian species traces to the observation that the albino and pink-eye dilution mutants are genetically closely linked in both mouse and rat. Significant experimental evidence came from genetic studies of somatic cells. In 1984, Nadeau and Taylor used mouse linkage data and human cytogenetic data to compare the chromosomal locations of orthologous genes. On the basis of a small data set (83 loci), they extrapolated that the mouse and human genomes could be parsed into roughly 180 syntenic regions. During two decades of subsequent work, the density of the synteny map has been increased, but the estimated number of syntenic regions has remained close to the original projection. A recent gene-based synteny map used more than 3,600 orthologous loci to define about 200 regions of conserved synteny. However, it is recognized that such maps might still miss regions owing to insufficient marker density.’ Nature, 2002

What map to bind mouse and man 

What map to bind mouse and man -
what grasp of perspective required, 

understanding of shared co-ordinates,
expressed in extravagant difference -

what old mother would recognise now
her own developed offspring - nursed

by Evolution, time, genomic revolution -
conservation, creativity, slow experiment.

What frame exhibiting such radical art,
workings on the same theme, materials,

with identical tools - what a fluttering 
in shared heart, compression of years, 

aeons, millennia, to be holding our whole, 
concentrated self - trembling, inquisitive -

in one enormous but similar hand; 
feeling, maybe, just a bit like God.

‘Mouse code is read - The genetic code of the mouse has been read and assembled into its correct order, Celera Genomics has announced. The US company says the information will play a crucial role in helping scientists understand the human genome, often referred to as the biochemical "book of life". Celera formerly published its "first assembly" of the human DNA sequence in February, at the same time that a "rough draft" of the data was put out by public researchers…Celera hopes to make future profits by providing subscribers to its online database with tools to search and compare various animal genomes, including those of the human, the mouse, the fly and the rat.’ BBC News 


‘We have deciphered the mouse ‘book of life’.’ Dr Jane Rogers, Head of Sequencing, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK, 2002

‘The genetic make-up of the mouse has been published for the first time in a scientific journal. The mouse "book of life" reveals that humans and mice share at least 80% of their genes, with only 300 unique to either organism. The mouse data have been produced by a number of US and UK institutions, funded by the National Institutes of Health in America and the Wellcome Trust in Britain. A private US company has already read the mouse genome but its research is not freely available to scientists - they must pay for access. In contrast, the work done by the international consortium has been posted on the net and is available to all. The public draft of the mouse genetic code - published in Nature - covers about 95% of the genome. It shows that about 80% of genes in mice and men are like for like. But if one considers just the different classes of genes - mice have more genes involved in reproduction and smell, for example - then the similarity rises to 99%. A fifth of the mouse genome was generated at the Sanger Institute near Cambridge, UK…The mouse genome should be finished in 2005.’ BBC News Online, 2002

“We’ve learnt a huge amount about human medical problems by studying mouse genetics. This new landmark announcement is of immense importance and will undoubtedly further our understanding of the molecular basis for human diseases- and the treatment of the widest range of human disorders.” Professor Robert Winston, Director of NHS Research and Development, Imperial College, Hammersmith Hospital, UK

“The entire biomedical research community can for the first time fully use this resource to tackle human diseases. They now have powerful tools that will serve them for many decades to come.”  Dr Jane Rogers, Head of Sequencing, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK 

‘About 1,200 new human genes have been discovered while mining the mouse genome. Many are involved in cancer and other human diseases and will help the search for new medical treatments. .. Scientists can work out what human genes do by "knocking out" similar looking genes in mice and studying the results. Researchers can also trace the malfunctioning genes responsible for disease by examining sick mice that display symptoms apparently similar to human conditions…Comparing the two genomes will help scientists understand how our cells work and why we get ill when one or more of our genes malfunction. Scientists can work out what human genes do by "knocking out" similar looking genes in mice and studying the results. Researchers can also trace the malfunctioning genes responsible for disease by examining sick mice that display symptoms apparently similar to human conditions.’ BBC News online

‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain.’ Robert Burns

Mus musculus, the Common Mouse

Mus musculus, the Common Mouse -
Burns saw before the eyes of science,
The man in mouse, the mouse in man,
As the creature trembled in its broken house.

The human enquiry in rodent face -
The hand that holds the nut, also holds the cup;
Whiskers tickle in moustache and beard,
Tailbone wriggles at the spine’s base. 
I hold her flutter and twinkle in my palm,
This curious dancing envelope of shared genes, 
Kiss dust-grey fur warming hazelnut skull,
Fuzzy-hair halo in evening candle-calm.

More than cousin, sister, brother -
From the same template how can we be made?
Comical twins, adopted by our kind, 
But sharing the same ancient mother.

Blinking like a tired, wise child, 
Flashing stars, miniaturised -
Singing she likes, low whispers too -  
She looks at me, kind, mild,

As if like Burns she already understands, 
Puzzled by squeals, poison, traps,
But likes our stories, (even silly human clothes) -
The two of us just sitting trying to hold hands.

“One of the major challenges for the 21st century is to understand the function of the thousands of human genes identified from the human genome project and their role in disease. The mouse is one of the most important organisms for studying the function of human genes and allowing treatments to emerge for human disease."  Professor Steve Brown, Director, MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit and Mouse Genome Centre, UK

‘The activities of the society have expanded with the growing realization of the important and unique role of rodent species in current biomedical and genetic research. The extensive mouse genetic resources and the identification of evolutionary conserved linkage relationships between mice and humans offer significant opportunities for understanding gene function in relation to human development and disease. The role of the mouse in current biomedical and genetic research will increase further as the benefits of comparative sequence analysis of the human and mouse genomes and large scale mutagenesis programs are obtained. The roles of other mammalian organisms will expand as their genomes are sequenced.’ International Mammalian Genome Society

‘…they were miserable bedraggled litte mice almost overwhelmed by the deadly germs… by the end of a week of regular injections of penicillin, all but one were alive and frisky. Penicillin had passed the animal test too…and would be safe to try in a human being.’ Portraits of Nobel Laureates in Medicine and Physiology, 1963

 ‘One of the main approaches is the production of ‘knockout mice’. A gene which is thought to play a role in biology or disease is identified and a non-functional copy of the gene engineered into mice at the embryonic stage. The effect on the behaviour of the animal is then followed. Making knockout mice is becoming big business, with many companies…offering custom-made knockout mice or mice from existing lines.’ Genewatch, 2006

Behold - the living laboratory of the mouse 

Behold - the living laboratory of the mouse -
her delicacy; halo-shine, mini-feet, fairy hand,

more difficult to mutate, to cripple, surely, 
than seemingly alien worm, fish, fruit fly -

see how she dances, twirls and prances -
starlight enshrined in twinkly whiskers;

never at rest, still hearing original music,
fluttering - as if she could still fly, given

the right wind, bright light - a brilliant brown 
sparrow-spark exploding, flickering, into air.

See how she sparkles in the palm - her tickly- 
tiny, twitchy paper-weight just dimpling skin 

with perfectly small human feet - see how 
she looks up; tell me you cannot see ghosts 

of shared identity, pleading - Remember in all
 this I am alive, though mapped; small cousin,

 little genetic sister, necessary to life - precious 
to Earth; and if you giants consider yourselves 

to be made in God’s image - 
then 99% the same, so am I. 

‘Mice mutants probe human genome - About 500 new strains of mice that mimic human health problems have been developed by a consortium of British research groups. The scientists hope experiments on the rodents will further our understanding of the genetic causes of disease and lead to new therapies for sick patients. But animal welfare groups have expressed concern at the scale of the project, which created 26,000 mutant mice to get the "library" of 500 promising animal models…The 500 strains so far identified as potential models appear to mimic conditions as diverse as osteoporosis, visual impairment, renal failure, abnormal cholesterol metabolism, spina-bifida, hearing impairment and diabetes. These will now be offered free of charge to academic groups to examine more closely…’ Jonathan Amos, BBC News Online

Mouse - I’m sorry you’re so convenient

Mouse - I’m sorry you’re so convenient,
drawing the short conserved-gene straw;

a quirk of nature, evolutionary strings,
binding you unfortunately, so unlikely,

to us - used, for all your twinkling charm;
how every pattering movement is a dance.

Such preposterous resemblance -
pantomime twins, freak brothers;

warm and living test tube containing, 
substituting, sparing, representing us…

How does the scientist learn to ignore
the tell-tale window of your little hand

curling childishly around silver bars,
such communal suffering imposed -

I suppose because they do clearly see 
the man, woman - child in the mouse.

‘Numerous centres throughout the world are generating random mutations by chemical treatment and we are collaborating with two of them to discover genes involved involved in eye development and function, and to produce a detailed picture of gene function in discrete regions of the genome. We have collaborated with the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit at Harwell to screen offspring of mice mutagenised with ethyl nitrosourea (ENU) for eye defects. We developed a rapid screen for mouse visual function, and we screened several thousand mice. We also carried out physical eye examinations with slit lamp and indirect ophthalmoscopy on over six thousand mice. We have identified about 25 mutations that affect eye development and we have genetically mapped most of them. In sixteen we have identified the gene affected and found the base change produced by the ENU treatment. These include seven novel mutant alleles of Pde6b, the retinal specific phosphodiesterase, four new alleles of the paired box gene, Pax6, two new alleles of the transcription factor gene Mitf, and mutations in the EGF receptor gene Egfr and another paired box gene Pax2. We are positionally cloning the remainder.’ Medical Research Council 
Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh
‘In a study published in the July 10 issue of the journal Nature, a multi-institution team, led by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, reported it had sequenced 99.4 percent of the gene-containing region of chromosome 7 to an accuracy of greater than 99.99 percent. The team also described its analysis of this highly accurate reference sequence, an effort that took advantage of recently released data on the mouse genome to refine gene predictions and zero in on chromosomal regions that may be of special interest in understanding genetic diseases.’ National Human Genome Research Institute

‘Animals were first transformed in 1980 by Frank Ruddle and Jon Gordon at Yale. By 1986 there had appeared a manual Manifpulation of the Mouse Embryo. Now hundreds of animals of many species have been genetically transformed – mice, pigs, cows, sheep – by injecting their embryos with many different kinds of DNA.’ Ian Wilmut, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

‘Transgenic mice are scientific gold dust. They enable scientists to find out what genes are for and why. The inserted gene need not be from a mouse, but could be from a person.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000 

‘ We applied this method to the analysis of a model of Kras2-mediated lung cancer and found a good relationship to human lung adenocarcinoma, thereby validating the model. Furthermore, we found that whereas a gene-expression signature of KRAS2 activation was not identifiable when analyzing human tumors with known KRAS2 mutation status alone, integrating mouse and human data uncovered a gene-expression signature of KRAS2 mutation in human lung cancer. We confirmed the importance of this signature by gene-expression analysis of short hairpin RNA−mediated inhibition of oncogenic Kras2. These experiments identified both a pattern of gene expression indicative of KRAS2 mutation and potential effectors of oncogenic KRAS2 activity in human cancer. This approach provides a strategy for using genomic analysis of animal models to probe human disease.’ Nature, 2006

“The only difference is that breeds of sheep have lovely, folksy names that have grown out of farming, while strains of laboratory mice are known by ugly genetic codes.” Ian Wilmut, Scientist, 2001

Concentration - not usual enlargement -
focusing information, sifting, clarifying;

how should we thank them, small bundles
of us - symbolic Mouse-man, Man-mouse;

in alabaster, bronze morph - grand statue
in prominent square - but what muddling,

muggling, messing with genes among cousins
might make, might not be fit for a city plinth -

another thing we might have to learn to love;
remembering these creations from our hand

sprang - our intervention with creation;
borrowing the master tools, processes -

see where we both breathe, our expression
of Nature’s learning, sea molecules to sky -

how will we honour the mouse for showing us;
maybe christening them with respectful names.

3-D Mouse Atlas Gene Expression Database

‘A collaboration between the MRC Human Genetics Unit and the Department of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh is developing a comprehensive 3-D Mouse Atlas Gene Expression Database. The majority of mouse genes function in a similar way to human ones, and research using mice has been key to identifying human gene counterparts that cause diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The database will be able to store information about where all 30,000 mouse genes are active during development. Now OPT should make the collection of such information possible – a task impractical using previous technology. The research is published in today’s edition of the international journal Science.’ The Medical Research Council (MRC) Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh, Scotland

 ‘MOUSE ATLAS is a joint project between MRC’s Human Genetics Unit and Edinburgh University’s Department of Anatomy to develop a computerized resource for studying the developing mouse embryo. The Atlas incorporates data from research projects world-wide and allows scientists to integrate finescale 3D images of stages in mouse embryonic development with a database showing where particular genes are active and how different tissues are formed.’  

‘The Edinburgh Mouse Atlas Project (EMAP) is a time-series of mouse-embryo volumetric models. The models provide a context-free spatial framework onto which structural interpretations and experimental data can be mapped. This enables collation, comparison, and query of complex spatial patterns with respect to each other and with respect to known or hypothesized structure. The atlas also includes a timedependent anatomical ontology and mapping between the ontology and the spatial models in the form of delineated anatomical regions or tissues. The models provide a natural, graphical context for browsing and visualizing complex data. The Edinburgh Mouse Atlas Gene- Expression Database (EMAGE) is one of the first applications of the EMAP framework and provides a spatially mapped gene-expression database with associated tools for data mapping, submission, and query.’ Neuroinformatics, 2003

‘What is EMAGE? EMAGE is a free database of 2D and 3D gene expression patterns during mouse embryo development. All EMAGE data is housed in the common framework of the EMAP 3D Digital Atlas. Like conventional databases, it contains some information in text format (eg. text-based descriptions of where genes are expressed and information about the probes and samples etc) but what makes it unique is that it also includes 2D and 3D spatial representations of where genes are expressed during development. The text based descriptions as well as the 2D and 3D representations of gene expression patterns are are all housed in a standard 'framework' (the EMAP 3D digital atlas). This EMAP digital atlas framework contains two parts: an ontology (a list of standard terms) of anatomical terms at different stages of development which is used to describe the sites of expression using standardised descriptions and it also contains a standard set of virtual 3D embryos. Experimental image data is converted to digital format and then housed in a appropriate space within a stage matched virtual 3D embryo. As the database contains both text and spatial types of data. it is possible to search the database using either words or space as the query. In many of the virtual 3D embryos that house the spatial data, 3D anatomical domains have been pre-defined. This allows complex expression data to be entered solely using space (into an appropriate 'named' place/tissue within the embryo model) and to be subsequently extracted from the database using words.’ MRC Human Genetics Unit and the Department of Anatomy, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Expressing Mouse Word in space, as genes
unfold in three dimensions - cannot be seen
as word, description, text - but come coded
in the genome, translated from spatial sense,
essential nature of orchestrated chemicals -
making, growing some creature from powers
of magic pattern, energy - life’s extant force;
such sublime unfurling from a master switch.

Embryo, Cashew nut-curled

Cashew nut-curled, could-be-anything
embryo unfurling - fluorescing in dark

space, personal galaxy - a sea-horse 
spine, the serrated mammal comma

of any animal under the sun;
Earth’s inter-connected zoo - 

demonstrating human, mouse synteny;
my baby, mouse-baby seen here, truly

as they are – Nature’s genetic twins,
astonishing brotherhood of species -

one will sing in choirs, one squeak
in wainscoting - giant, fairy-sized,

now indistinguishable, in the third
dimension; in white stars of mouse

sparked here, creating slow explosions,
genomic Milky Way sparkling - woven 

into and weaving interior envelope;
neurotic heart fluttering into stutter,

dust-fur exterior – here come wax
radar ears, angelic whiskers - eyes

so open, guileless, to light, even here
in the opened dark; two stars sparked

forever while this mouse is alive -
the same light as all living things;

here on the screen could be my baby -
baby of the universe, flowering a hand.

‘”The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,” wrote the perceptive Burns, but could he even have had prescience of yesterday’s announcement by US researchers that they have paved the way for mice to produce human sperm. This could make it very worrying if your child squeaks before it speaks or shows an uncanny delight in cheese or nibbling the cot, or flees the family cat. But at least choosing the name would be easier – Mickey or Minnie, naturally. Sperm-producing tissue from other animals was implanted under the skin of the mice and after several months began to produce genuine – if perhaps confused – sperm. This is the first time the mouse “hosts” – not the same as being the one taking the coats and passing the mini bruschetta – have accepted grafts from very dissimilar species, and also from immature animals. But just as you shudder, consider that such seemingly disturbing developments could allow men, even boys, undergoing treatments such as radiotherapy for cancer, to father children afterwards. Also, for any man needing sperm frozen, the mouse supply could prove more reliable than a single stored batch. I understand how the desire for parenthood, as with many medical applications of genetic science, might dominate over initial repugnance. Often, those with no conception or child-bearing problems are too quick to judge. As long as men don’t start worrying about the size of their mouse. I also wondered, seeing film of wriggling sperm, if the poor mice would tickle, but am reliably informed that men’s testicles do not tickle.’ Gillian Ferguson, column, Scotsman newspaper 


It’s not so hard to imagine; Mouse-man, Homo Mus,
Mus Sapiens - Manouse - in stories we have dressed 

mice in clothes before; see how they’d fit, even six-
foot sized - picture easily our slightly pointier nose, 

elongated teeth, bulging furred muscle at thigh, arm - 
how easy the notion, bald, poised question-mark tail,

Victorian back-fastening trousers for accommodation, 
at parties draped in the arm crook to avoid breakages,

being trodden on; our own ears rolled waxily thinner, 
gathering gossip like fine radar skin-dishes, pivoting – 

how soft our milk-silk bellies, identical giganticised 
hands and feet - genetic expression barely disturbed; 

but how will total mercury-black eyes be, 
if widened pupils demonstrate affection -  

or will the morph leave white, brown, green, blue?
All the tales of lands, geography of seas, sky, sun, 

mountains - such history in those colours, messages
subtly written in the coded iris; flowery, responsive,

communicative power of those tunnel adjustments
we call windows, seeing the original light there -

would we be afraid of cats - or them, giant us?
Would we always be dancing how mice dance,

and children, before slumping into static adulthood -
jittery, bouncing with delight, just happy to be made.

Mathilda Mouse 

My first pet;
first death - 

love underestimated 
as the teenager’s - 

pure, untrained;

I can still feel the finger-heart shock 
of that cold stone

nesting her cloudy bed -
the flickering heat, dancing

flutter-bluster of her;
fossilised -

that shivering twitch, 
whisker-stars tickling sunlight,

extinguished -
light from the start of the world.

I can still feel the feverish, flowerish tremble 
of my hand as I lifted her petrified body out -

patent eyes squeezed asleep,
an apple-seed leak of light

just waiting for me
to cry away to nothing.

I can still see the shine 
on dust-grey fur, of that fat, buttery tear,

like the mercury bead in a leaf cup,
that lay solid like a tree’s resin weeping; 

never dissolved, dried - 
silver seed,

taxidermy of a child’s first serious tear;
like salt crystal, snowflake skeleton -

it will lie there still,
in the tiny white harp of her bones.

‘Consider the fate of George Romanes,/ Darwin’s disciple, whose 1884 work, / Animal Intelligance, addressed/  the continuity of mental faculties/ among creatures, citing the example of/ Icelandic mice said to have been observed/ storing supplies of berries/ inside dried mushrooms, loading the rations/ onto dried cow-droppings, then/ launching their supply ships and/ sailing them across rivers/ using their tails for rudders.’ Alison Hawthorne Deming, Essays on Intelligence: Seven 

Twinkle-presence from the skirting

Twinkle-presence from the skirting,
before any eyes, body – I petrify -

first, twitchy whisker-stars quivering,
sampling the atmosphere; any giants?

I breathe, imperceptibly, as a flower -
a fairy hand reaches from a black hole,

barely pressing red carpet - parts fibres;
nervous pinhead nostrils jitter, sniffle -

then, oily eyes spark from small gloom,
liquid darkness lit with stars - checking 

everywhere at once, like nervous birds -
sweetness and smiling in that little face;

whole gold body fluttering, vibrating - 
butterfly motions of a miniature heart 

you could fit on one enormous fingertip;
her neurotic nervous system over-wired 

to everything - tripped by bright dust-mote, 
sound of a moth concussing at the window;

passing thistle-wish that could lift the mouse
to night heaven on its starry white fluff-wing.

Envision a Leonardo diagram; the sketches
demonstrating Creation’s ludicrous twins -

points of synteny, divergence, preservation -
similar adaptation, conservation of sunk genes;

be lost then to the early morning for the sake
of this night hour, these thoughts in darkness.

And this particular mouse hunts only Green 
and Black’s organic chocolate - snob-rodent

eschewing Cadbury’s Christmas Roses - 
will not pollute the corn-pure sun-colour

of his body, with bad chemicals, trans-fats -
this gourmet field mouse has gone organic;

and why shouldn’t he evolve like us,
where there is spirit of plenty, luck -

choosy, will eat no GM wheat or oats, only
nibbling Nairns oatcakes left on the hearth.

There comes a time when he knows I’m there,
watching; wary, but not afraid, he is acrobatic

after feasting, dancing through dark, isolated
Highland winter nights, he’s grand company;

we look forward to our meetings, though I’m 
tired - but always observing this little creature,

his bright movement, instinct, learning patterns;
his flicker, twinkly way of being - I see he’s art. 

‘The two-dimensional ‘photonic crystal fibre’ of the sea mouse Aphrodite.’ Andrew Parker, List of Illustrations, Seven Deadly Colours:The Genius of Nature's Palette and How It Eluded Darwin, Simon & Schuster Ltd

‘The gene which makes jellyfish fluoresce has been inserted into mice embryos, resulting in glow-in-the-dark rodents. Other mice have had their muscle mass increased, or been made to be more faithful to their partners, through the insertion of a gene into their normal genetic make-up. But this method of genetic engineering is inefficient - in order to produce one fluorescent mouse, for example, several go wrong and are born deformed.’ BBC 

Fluorescent Mice

Even on darkest nights, Moon-Mice 
twinkle-foot about the laboratory - 

glowing, lighting their own way; 
luminous, fuzzy, mini-pilgrims,

knowing internal and external light, 
but perpetually looking for source -

clues to such obvious celestial nature.
Other trapped creatures tremble, bow

when evening blackens into blurr and shadow,
at these holy mice, angel-mice, who have shed 

bright wings to be light among them on Earth;
but still shine, unable to damp marks of spirit - 

manifest, written in each filament of fur;
their small haloes, ET fingertips aglow -

scuttling the corridors of earthly night; 
hyperactive mini-messiahs - gene-stars. 

Little mouse-spirit fluttering, 
hyperactive by my big time -

still flaring, stuttering bright
in the strangeness of yourself;

how we are under a full Moon,
belongs to you forever now -

for what - to be a far star
shining in my green palm,

genetic light-freak - 
cosmic student joke.

Switch off the light - see you still glow;
in your black eyes, such fine wee spirit

now carried on myriad fur filaments, 
like those 1970s angel-hair lamps -

to light this twilight nevertheless
with the living ghost of yourself,

small candle of fellow animal dignity -
whatever may be done without consent.

Remember that brighter light,
little shining angel-mouse -

for you are still full of grace,
bearing a strange torch of life.

‘Researchers have deleted 3 per cent of the mouse genome, but the mice show no apparent ill effects. After completing the sequencing of the human genome, a question still lingers: is all the non-coding DNA (sometimes called 'junk DNA') – which makes up nearly 98 per cent of the genome – required, or is some of it potentially disposable? US researchers have now shown that deleting large swaths of DNA sequence shared by mice and humans still generated mice that suffered no apparent ills from their genomes being millions of letters lighter…"In these studies, we were looking particularly for sequences that might not be essential," said Eddy Rubin, Director of the JGI [US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute], where the work was conducted. "Nonetheless we were surprised, given the magnitude of the information being deleted from the genome, by the complete lack of impact noted. From our results, it would seem that some non-coding sequences may indeed have minimal if any function." A total of 2.3 million letters of DNA code from the 2.7-billion-base-pair mouse genome were deleted. To do this, embryonic cells were genetically engineered to contain the newly compact mouse genome. Mice were subsequently generated from these stem cells. The research team then compared the resulting mice with the abridged genome to mice with the full-length version. A variety of features were analysed, ranging from viability, growth and longevity to numerous other biochemical and molecular features. Despite the researchers' efforts to detect differences in the mice with the abridged genome, none were found. The negligible impact of removing these sequences suggests that the mammalian genome may not be densely encoded.’ Wellcome Trust, 2004

‘How promptly and ably/ you execute Nature’s policies,/ and are never/ lured into misconduct/ except by some unlucky/ chance imprinting.’ WH Auden, 1907-73, Address to the Beasts

‘The European Union has approved funding of a three-year research programme designed to test the function of almost every gene in the mouse genome. The €13 million ($16 million) project proposes to generate 20,000 mutations in mouse embryonic stem cells and make them available to researchers worldwide, from a central depository in Heidelberg, Germany. The European Conditional Mouse Mutagenesis Programme (EUCOMM) is not seen as a competitor to the World Stem Cell Hub, the creation of which is expected to be announced this week in South Korea. The hub, under the auspices of the “king of cloning”, Woo Suk Hwang, of Seoul National University, will act as a central bank for human embryonic stem cells. It involves the creator of Dolly the sheep, Ian Wilmut, from the Roslin Institute, UK, and Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, US. The European programme will mutate mouse genes – there are some 25,000 in its genome – in order to study their function, whereas the South Korean hub will be concerned with therapeutic uses of human stem cells. Research will start in 2006, using two techniques to achieve specific mutations. A technique called “gene trapping” can be used to randomly mutate genes by inserting a DNA element into the gene. This can be used not only to knock-out the gene but also to identify where it has been knocked out.  A second technique called “gene targeting” uses inserted DNA to disrupt a gene but in a specific place. Both techniques should create “conditional mutations” – so they can be switched on or off in different tissues and at different times during development. European scientists are at the forefront of conditional mutagenesis technology, says Wolfgang Wurst, director of the Institute of Developmental Genetics in Neuherberg, Germany. “This allows us to dissect gene function in vivo (within a living organism) more precisely and allows us to mimic human disease conditions more closely,” he says.The resource is likely to see a rise in the number of transgenic mice used in research. Current figures show that about three million animals are used in research in the UK each year - 84% being rodents. Figures have been steadily rising and new figures from the UK Home Office in the next few weeks are expected to show a further rise. EUCOMM researchers would like to achieve different kinds of mutations in each of the 20,000 mouse genes, says Steve Brown, director of the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit in Harwell, UK. “Ninety-nine per cent of human genes are represented in the mouse,” says Brown. “Over the next 10 to 20 years we will create mutations in every gene in the mouse genome and ask: what is the outcome in terms of disease and development?” The system could be used to study motor neurone disease, for example. A US version of the mutagenesis programme – the Knockout Mouse Project – has been mooted but the US National Institutes of Health has yet to make a request for applications, says Brown.’ Rowan Hooper, New Scientist, 2005

‘Scientists breed world’s first mentally ill mouse.’ Guardian newspaper, UK, 2007 

To a Man (adapted from‘To a Mouse’, Robert Burns, 1785)

On being turned up in my nest with the Hoover, November 2005

Big loupin’, thundrin’, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
	Wi bickering brattle!
Think wimmin I wid rin an chase thee,
             Wi giants dae battle!

I’m truly sorry your dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An cultivates that ill opinion,
	Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
	An fellow mortal!

You doubt na, whyles, but I may thieve;
What then? rich beastie, I maun live!
A wee bit biscuit fir ma dinner
	‘S a sma request;
You’ll get a blessin bein thinner, 
	An never miss’t!

My wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
Its silly wa’s the Hoover’s strewin!
An naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ Closer magazine!
An bleak December’s win’s ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

I saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An weary winter comin fast,
An cozie here, beneath the blast,
I thought to dwell, 
Till crash! the cruel Hoover past
Out thro’ my cell.

That wee bit heap o’ mags an scribble,
Has cost me monie a’weary nibble!
Now I’m turned out, for a my trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
	An cranreuch cauld!

So Mannie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o mice an men
	Gan aft agley,
An lea’e us nought but grief an pain,
	For promis’d joy!

Still thou are blest, compar’d wi me!
The rights o’ man protecteth thee:
But, och! I forward cast my e’e,
	On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
	I guess an’ fear! 	

‘Today, the leading science journal, Nature, publishes research describing the production of GM mice that have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their bodies and milk (1). The scientists involved suggest applying the technique to farm animals, such as chickens and cattle, to produce ‘healthy’ eggs and milk. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to have a protective effect against heart disease and are normally found at high levels in oily fish. GeneWatch UK has discovered that the lead scientist involved filed a patent application for the technique on 12th March 2002 (2). If granted, this will give him monopoly rights over the use of work and able to charge license fees and royalties. The patent claims cover the GM animals themselves. “Producing GM chickens and cows with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids would result in the death and suffering of many, many animals”, said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK’s Director. “There are better ways of tackling heart disease than trying to engineer animals to suit unhealthy lifestyles. The scientist has neatly set himself up to profit from this venture. The publication in Nature looks like free advertising and leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth…If this ever got off the ground, we are likely to see the ridiculous situation of fish meal and oil being used to feed GM cows and chickens to provide us with omega-3 fatty acids we could have got from the fish in the first place,” said Dr Mayer. “It’s a crude attempt to squeeze more profits out of animals”.’ Genewatch, 2003

‘The mouse genome is 14% shorter than the human, reflecting the amount of junk DNA in humans.
Mice have more genes involved in smell. Many shared genes may be permanently switched off in one of other species - the genes for making a tail, for instance, are almost certainly present in humans – suggesting that men are mere mice without tails. Some 90% of the genes known to be involved in disease in humans exist in mice. They produce similar or related symptoms when damaged.’ The Independent newspaper, UK, 2004 

Your Dream of a Tail

“We share 99% of our genes with mice, and we even have the genes that could make a tail.” Dr Jane Rogers, Head of Sequencing, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK

Memories shelved in the brain’s dark beds; 
windows draped thick, opaque with years - 

my wandering light - twinkling mind surviving 
the sweet paralysis of sleep, rest’s minor death,

is guided by the day brain’s store 
crazily filing through the night -

cannot turn off this flashing red light, 
siren-honking, cymbal amazement – 

‘We have the genes to make a tail!’,
at the spine’s base, our ‘tail-bone’;

which, spreading like a glow-worm galaxy
expanding, tiny stars on complex currents 

webbed, disturbs that strange dream you had - 
here archived among ‘Old Romances’, niched

where dust is worked slowly into earth -
compost welcomed by the growing heart;

dream of your own tail, joined like a limb,
feeling flexible, skilful, curled as a finger -

switching, swishing, fine monkey-balance -
pride in its held-aloftness, like horse-tossed,

shining hair… and that morning loss, 
shivering animal distress – you cried 

agonisingly like an amputee; psychological
torment vivid - terrible as a trapped rabbit -

screaming fox biting her own leg clear -
my human arms around you in the world,

where illusion of solidity and order rules,
could not cure this new absence of a tail -

you were inconsolable, tormented, bereft -
awful to see, like a broken-hearted woman;

so I scoured the city for a tail - matching colour, 
shape, fur; black, thin, ragged, flexible, straggly,

just like you; of course it had to be a proper match -
it was a bit like looking for God, not knowing where 

to look, but having to; desperate, believing 
somewhere it exists, even in total darkness.

And in the very last place, Pandora’s hope
just hopping from the box - there it was - 

in a haberdasher’s store - unattached -
black down and feather, sinuous, long;

fitting your dream perfectly, like a snake’s skin;
pinned hastily in place, you were then peaceful, 

whole again.Then, it was funny, hilarious -
you stood preening like a skinny black cat,

happy, sun-soaked by the window; and yes,
I must say looking more complete - correct.

So now we know – this was the possible tail -
silenced by time, Evolution, in the ready spine;

but what whispered, woke these sleeping genes, 
read them into fleshless life, one young night -

an echo of the voice still calling tail from mouse, 
emanating under the floor - penetrating dreams?

Genes hearing the language they all understand; 
always aching, millennia, for life, to be, create? 

Marking me young was the will, energy to look;
believing in some good madness of belief, faith. 

‘The most extraodinary thing are [gecko’s]  claws, actual hands with soft fingers, all pad…the five fingers stretch out like the petals of little flowers in a childish drawing.. At once delicate and strong, these hands seem to contain a potential intelligence, so that if they could only be freed from their task of remaining stuck there to the vertical surface they could acquire the talents of human hands, which are said to have become skilled after they no longer had to cling to boughs or press on the ground.’ Italo Calvino, Mr Palomar, Picador, 1986 


My favourite animal was a mouse

My favourite colour as a child was black - 
embarrassing my mother, 
because people couldn’t see 
the way it made other colours burn -
like French paintings barely in their frames;
how it sparkled my plastic jewels,
lit stars,
Tutenkhamun’s turquoise eyes;
my own snowish skin.

My first crush was Mr Spock -
that blue crow-sheen in his hair,
intelligent eyebrow -
loyalty, friendship, courage, 
lightning humour strikes; 
exotic green blood like a flower,
two hearts, that unexpected kiss…
considered odd, 
compared to swooning 
over smirking Captain Kirk,
but I was my father’s daughter,
already knew these silly, flirting, 
under-dressed women sexist, insulting;
quite pleased when they turned 
into hairy, blood-sucking aliens,  
jellyfish blobs, mid-snog. 

My favourite animal was the mouse -
every book, toy, birthday card,
nameplate of my room; 
even one tolerated game - 

(as a child I always hated games
and nobody understood why,
would let it be, 
because children are required to play -
not bikes and running games,
getting blotchy orange knees,
doll-pink cheeks in winter streets,
but numbing boards, counters, pointless
scores  - the grinding waste of time 
compared to drawing, books, making;
but you must take part, join in, 
or be seen as slightly imperious, somewhat odd,
because it’s far too easy in this world
to be considered strange).

I mean cats, rabbits, dogs, guinea pigs 
were OK - they’re certainly what they wanted 
you to say, 
and I’d want to shout: ‘Aardvark! 
Dodo! Gnu! ; Two-toed sloth! Ant-eater! Wombat! 
Vampire bat!’ – 
but the mouse was my favourite;
for the fluttering heart,
silver, quivering whisker-stars, 
human hands exactly like a fairy, 
question mark elegant tail,
translucent wax ears,
Tom Thumb toes dancing on my palm -
(though they did pong a bit, my pets;
astoundingly acidic pee-whiff 

that still conjures cousin smells -
lead pencil sharpenings frilling
seams of brown leather satchels;
orange Spacehopper smell
floating to the ozone -

and tastes – 
Kola Cubes, the red-raw tongue-pain of them;
Sherbert Dib-Dabs, Sherbet Lemons,
Sherbet Fountains, Sherbert Flying Saucers –
it’s a wonder I didn’t explode;

and sounds – 
Scooby Dooby-Doooo, 
Blue Peter’s jiggling, niggling tune, 
Tic-Tac rattle, Top of the Pops,
Jackanory…still jostling in the toy box
stored in every mind; waiting, sprung
like ancient, dusty, Jack-in-the-boxes). 

I remember that dust-colour, fibreless fur,
warmed by flickering heart muscle - 
silken slip about my neck
on tickly pixie feet,
nesting my hair;
itchy blurr 
of ear-washing in my hand;

that inquisitive, companiable look 
in those eyes - shiny, black
as my patent party shoes - 

and now I understand why they suited 
Beatrix Potter clothes,
why I loosed them in the dolls’ house;
because they looked so at home
seen smiling from the windows -

why the sweetness of their hands and feet 
resonated so loud;  

why we understood each other - 
smiling mouth and whiskers -
their whole eye a pupil for light. 

Our Mouse
Dedicated to the memory of a fine mouse -‘Myrtle’ (1995-1997)

Before children - our mouse.

The baby in miniature hands; Thumbelina feet -
who knew his human name when softly called, 
(didn’t hold his mistaken gender against us).

After illness - our mouse.

Who kept you company - 
tiny clockwork clown;
pocket acrobat swinging, ringing 
budgie bells, running
to the moon through blue tubes;
looking into giant hubcap eyes 
with kindness polished 
until two small stars shone
always in total black.

But then came mites -
a friend substituting rabbit straw 
for sawdust on his holidays -
scratching, balding, irritation;
vet injections, cutting down hamster collars,
still too big - making our own every night;
squeezing cream, sellotaping
reluctant mouse into tiny, fiddly, paper cones;
grim humour of dedicated carers
and Elizabethan mouse.

Then tests, visits, samples sent to the eminent 
Edinburgh University Vetinary school -
our vet saying: ‘Do you want to go on?’,
knowing how hearts harden at rodents’ fate -
people will ruin themselves, remortgage
for a dog or cat, but mention ‘mouse’,
a rising bill tipping a hundred pounds
when he cost 50p, 
well, people begin to question your sanity…

But this vet was wise, persevered -
knowing everybody’s pet is worth more 
to them than others can ever understand.

And Myrtle lived to turn snowy round the edges,
jump rustily, bumping into mirror twins -
though he never stopped listening,
understanding gist 
without the ornament of human detail;

and at the last, was buried in Edinburgh’s 
historic Warriston Cemetery, with full honours, 
like many a good and famous citizen before him - 

but he is the only one with a tiny china gravestone 
in the shape of a cheese.

A Mouse Ate My Notes

A mouse - indeed, a whole family of mice -
ate lots of my hard won notes for this book; 

from the bottom of the box, as I, comically,
added to the top. Extracts - stories of poets, 

in their own words, reaching for science 
that is now here, by thought, imagination, 

intuition, reflection - finding truth, advance, 
without the exacting tools of science. Even 

notes on our genetic similarity with mice…
how, then, could any punishment be exacted; 

even when they set up home - bred in the printer -
cosy in a centrally-heated modern plastic bungalow.

So did the mice that ate the research - lines of poetry - 
given our genetic similarity, feel anything, learn, recoil; 

gain as they slept in beds of shredded poems, knowledge.
Were dreams sweeter, more colourful; did they assimilate 

any words, some sort of meaning as they digested; 
entering mouse DNA, fitting as our genomes fit -

was there new beauty, shape, notes in squeaking 
squeezing from the wainscoting - more music - 

is that a mouse contemplating us - 
is that a mouse watching the sunset. 

Famous mice  – Mickey Mouse, Stuart Little, Tom Thumb, Hunca Munca, Mrs Tittlemouse, DangerMouse, Angelmouse, the Three Blind Mice, the mouse that ran up the clock, Of Mice and Men mouse, Minnie Mouse, Mighty Mouse. 





Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Zoo
        Puffer Fish
        Also, Zebrafish
        Tyrannosaurus Rex
    Gene Garden
    Earth Poems

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