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Transcript of the Interview with Dr. Gary Churchill

Interview with Dr. Gary Churchill for Findings
November 18, 2009

Can I tell you about some mice?

One of them is called WSB, and WSB stands for white-spotted brain. It has a white spot on its forehead. It's really fascinating. WSB is one of the contributors of the Collaborative Cross, which is effectively hundreds of new mouse strains, and it's one that I hand-picked. It's really my favorite mouse.

They're wild mice. The first thing I noticed about WSB is if you're walking down the row of cages in the mouse room, you can look in the boxes and you see mice, mice, mice, mice, and then you get to this box and there are no mice in it. So my technician had to point this out to me. He said, “Bend down and look up under the lid.” And the WSB mice are there. They're clinging to the box right under the lid, because they've heard you coming down the aisle and they know you're going to open the lid because you're going to change the food or the water or the bedding or something. And if they hang right near the edge of the lid, they can get out fast. It's this strange behavior.

When we shipped the WSB mice down to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they have a different kind of caging system that was kind of a cheese box, round box, that connects to an air device. So there's a pipe running up the middle and there's air that flows through the pipe. And the technicians would put WSBs in these cages and they'd put four in one cage and four in the other, and they'd come back and the next morning there'd be seven in one cage and one in the other. And they'd say, “Oh, the cage-changers messed up again.” They'd sort the mice out again. And then the next day it would happen, there'd be seven in one. What was happening is it actually required cooperation. The mice had to open the hatch, so that other mice -- if one mouse on the inside would push the hatch, the other mice could go through the air tube and get into the cage. You could never get all the mice in one cage. But they were trying to congregate because they want to be in big groups, and they were opening the air hatch for each other and getting through. Weird. So they're -- I think they look smart, they've got that spot on their heads, and they do strange, interesting things. So that's by far my favorite mouse.

There's another mouse that illustrates a point that I really take to heart. I think it's a fundamental feature of life. The mouse is called the C3H mouse. It really -- sometime in the 1980s, a number of mutations happened. Suddenly the C3H mouse was this lean, mean, kind of high bone-density, lean, high muscular-mass mouse. Someone wrote a paper about it and called it the Adonis mouse. So I think of this really almost god-like mouse, with these -- and it lives a long time, it has, you know, great longevity. But if it should see a gram-negative bacteria, it would drop dead because it's lost all its innate immunity to that type of bacteria. It illustrates to me a point about tradeoffs. As long as they live in their plastic boxes, they're godlike mice. And yet they wouldn't last a minute in the real world.

This page last reviewed on October 14, 2011