When people talk about science, the phrase lab rat often comes up. Not surprisingly, a lab rat is a rat that gets tested in a lab. In today’s modern pursuits, mice and rats are often used for research across expansive fields in the scientific sphere. Mice are used for studies in biology, genetics, toxicology, pharmacology, and more. This begs the question, why are mice so often used in scientific studies? Why not hamster or gerbils? The answer(s) might surprise you.
The first reason is that mice have a relatively short lifespan. The average lifespan of a laboratory mouse is 2-3 years. They have a gestation period of only three weeks and reach sexual maturity by 8 weeks. The quick growth and reproduction cycle of lab mice allows scientists to study changes across generations in a quick manner. Compared to other laboratory animals like rats, rabbits, and dogs, mice have the reproductive advantage. Because of this, it is possible to quickly study the effects of genetic mutations, diseases, and drugs over multiple generations.
The second major reason mice are so commonly used in laboratory studies is their genetic makeup. Believe it or not, mice and humans share a 99% similarity in genes. Our astonishingly similar genetic make-up allows scientists to easily human diseases and disorders in mice. For example, researchers can genetically modify mice in order to make discoveries about cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, etc. and test potential treatments.
Another major reason mice are used in lab tests is their size. Lab mice are small, easy to house, and easy to handle. Relative to a dog or rabbit, mice require very little space to properly house. In a lab environment where space is finite this is a huge plus. Moreover, you can house multiple mice in one habitat. It is recommended to have at least 2 square feet for one mouse with an additional square foot per mouse.
Lastly, mice are often used in a laboratory setting due to their cost. Relative to other laboratory animals mice are very cheap to acquire and house. This makes them the ideal animal to study when a large sample size is required. The minimum sample size for a viable experiment is 30, however in terms of obtaining scientific data more is almost always better. Experiments can easily study hundreds or thousands of subjects. When factoring in the numbers the benefits of studying lab mice quickly become clear.
In short, mice are often used in a laboratory setting for their short lifespan, quick reproduction cycles, genetic similarity to humans, small size, and low cost. These unique characteristics make them the ideal animal to learn from. The best type of scientific testing is the kind that is non-harmful. At Happy Habitats we believe that all small animals, from hamsters to hedgehogs, deserve a high-quality life. And, while mice may do well in a laboratory setting, they also make great pets!