As well as providing Disney with two of its best-loved characters and its longtime sobriquet – the Mouse House – the humble Mus musculus (house mouse) has long been of interest to scientists.
Mostly this is down to the fact that mice are mammals like us and to the many similarities between human and mouse DNA. Now it's the similarities with Mus musculus's showbiz cousins, Mickey and Minnie, that is attracting attention from the scientific community. Mice haven't yet learned to tap dance, conduct an orchestra, drive a car or talk in a squeeky voice but they have been putting their tonsils to good use in other ways: it turns out they can sing, and probably better than Jedward.
Researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans have discovered that mice have the ability to learn songs based on the sounds they hear and then "sing" them as part of a courtship ritual. They can also vary the pitch of the songs so they're in tune with another mouse. Again, a talent Jedward lack.
When scientists damaged the cells thought to be controlling pitch-regulation ability, the mice lost the ability. The same thing happened when the mice were made deaf. It's hoped the findings can help in the study of problems affecting human communication.
"We are claiming that mice have limited versions of the brain and behaviour traits for vocal learning that are found in humans for learning speech and in birds for learning song," said research team leader Dr Erich Jarvis. "In mice, they don't exist at the advanced levels found in humans and song-learning birds but they are not completely absent as commonly assumed."
Unfortunately, the frequencies at which these songs are sung are ultrasonic so humans can't hear them. If only that were true of Jedward.
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