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Killer Mice

January 16, 2017

Scientists discover a vertebrate brain circuit that triggers hunting, pouncing and biting.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

A brain circuit that triggers a killer instinct. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Activating a single circuit in a mouse brain transforms the rodent from a placid creature to a killing machine. This according to Yale neurobiologist Ivan de Araujo and his colleagues, reporting in the journal Cell.

IVAN DE ARAUJO (Yale University School of Medicine):

So, basically, the animals pursue, and restrain and bite very fiercely that object a very repeated number of times.

HIRSHON:

They even attack small toys and other prey-sized objects. But they don’t attack other mice. Mice with the brain circuit disabled can pursue prey but have weaker bites and can’t kill. de Araujo says the brain circuit exists in all vertebrate animals, except primitive species without jaws, and probably arose to enhance biting efficiency. The work is helping scientists understand how single brain circuits evolve to control complex behaviors. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon