Friday, December 14, 2007

Japanese Scientists Develop Fearless Mouse: What Future Implications?

Japanese scientists say they've shed some new light on mammal behavior, by developing a new mouse that has basically "no fear."

Reuters reports that these scientists at Tokyo University, using genetic engineering, have successfully switched off the rodents' instinct to cower at the smell or presence of cats. They believe this shows that fear is genetically hardwired and not learned through experience, as commonly thought. This is a very interesting piece of science because of what it potentially says about human fear, and how it is that we instinctively cringe at certain things.

"Mice are naturally terrified of cats, and usually panic or flee at the smell of one. But mice with certain nasal cells removed through genetic engineering didn't display any fear," said research team leader Dr. Ko Kobayakawa. "The mice approached the cat, even snuggled up to it and played with it," Kobayakawa said. "The discovery that fear is genetically determined and not learned after birth is very interesting, and goes against what was previously thought."

Kobayakawa said his findings, published in the science magazine Nature last month, should help researchers shed further light on how the brain processes information about the outside world. To me, an avid science fiction reader, I can see how information of this sort could be used in some hidden research lab in countries trying to develop the ultimate soldier -- one with no fear whatsoever. Or, a pharmaceutical product that counteracts the effect of this "fear gene" and allows the salesman or surfer an unlimited ability to pursue their sport without the fear of rejection, or the fear of drowning.

Scary thought?


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