A series of articles from Slate's Daniel Engber looks at the use of mice and rats as model organisms, and asks whether researchers are too dependent on them. "Any animal model you use for disease is going to be similar to the human version of disease in some ways and different in other ways," Engber tells NPR's All Things Considered. "If all of your experiments are done on the same animal, those differences are just going to keep coming up again and again and again. It's self-limiting."
Engber writes that an overreliance on mice and rats may be holding biomedical research back — in the first part of his series, he highlights findings from National Institute on Aging's Mark Mattson that mice and rats used as controls are sedentary and obese. Engber then notes in a separate article that not only is much effort focused on mice and rats, but a particular mouse, Black-6. "If you've chosen one breed of mouse — one flavor of ice cream — to serve as the vehicle for every genetic twist and the baseline for every study, then you're stuck with all its idiosyncrasies. A standard is only as good as its quirks," he says. Engber suggests that a more varied approach be taken, to supplement mouse and rat research. "The classic inbred strains, mobilized for the war on cancer many decades ago, may offer the certainty of data and the most efficient means of its production," he says. "But one thing is clear: To do battle against the killers of men, they can't march on alone."