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Scientists Build a Smarter Rat

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the politicians-still-mostly-in-the-lead dept.

Biotech 302

destinyland writes "Scientists have engineered a more intelligent rat, with three times the memory length of today's smartest rats. Reseachers bred transgenic over-expression of the NR2B gene, which increased communication between the rat's memory synapses. Activating a crucial brain receptor for just a fraction of a second longer produces a dramatic effect on memory, as proven by the rat's longer memories of the path through a maze."

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302 comments

I for one (-1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963726)

welcome our new Rat Bastard overlords!

Re:I for one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29963818)

*Clap clap*

Way to be original. How about forgetting the boring, pointless, stupid "Oh-my-God-I-can-use-a-meme!" references and contribute something intelligent. Or fuck off back to your imageboard.

Re:I for one (0)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963962)

How about forgetting the boring, pointless, stupid "Oh-my-God-I-can-use-a-meme!" references and contribute something intelligent. Or fuck off back to your imageboard.

No...

Re:I for one (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964432)

You mean, like "In soviet Russia, our new Rat Bastard overlords welcome YOU"? :-) Of course, in Korea, only old people forget those references. Maybe they got Alzheimer ...

Well, imagine a Beowulf cluster of memory-improved rats. Given how fast rats reproduce, this would give an exponential speedup of your calculation. However, do those rats run Linux? Maybe we would need memory-enhanced penguins instead. But those don't breed as fast ...

Re:I for one (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964496)

However, do those rats run Linux? Maybe we would need memory-enhanced penguins instead. But those don't breed as fast ...

You must be doing something wrong...
You are trying to bread the penguins with OTHER penguins right?

Re:I for one (2, Insightful)

Jhon (241832) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963904)

Seeing these posts is like listing to Monty Python's "I Like Traffic Lights" song.

Re:I for one (3, Funny)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964394)

You might want to see a doctor if hearing a particular song causes you to lose balance. I'm not saying tumor or anything, but you might want to check it out.

Re:I for one (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964218)

welcome our new Rat Bastard overlords!

New?

Re:I for one (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964456)

welcome our new Rat Bastard overlords!

New?

Well, bribing these Rat Bastards with cheese is much cheaper than bribing our old masters with large campaign contributions, blackjack and of coarse the strippers.

Needs much more work (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29963732)

When they can scale it up from lawyers to humans, we might have something useful to talk about.

Actually I wonder what the downside is (3, Insightful)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963980)

After all, if more memory were that simple, surely evolution would have changed that gene by itself. If it were a tradeoff, that would be much more logical.

So what did these rats lose ? Do they have gaps in long term memory ?

I'd watch out for the "no free lunch" idea holding true here too.

Re:Actually I wonder what the downside is (5, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964532)

Maybe the trade-off is that their brain simply needs more energy, which isn't great when food availability is the main factor limiting reproduction. Or maybe, the better memory simply doesn't help the rats too much in their natural habitat. After all, natural selection doesn't favour long memories, it favours large effective reproduction rates. If long memory doesn't lead to higher effective reproduction rates, it won't be improved by natural selection.

The secret... (0)

mishehu (712452) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963760)

...of NIMH coming soon...

They always said that science could bread more intelligent rats, but did they REALLY have to???

Re:The secret... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29964092)

science could bread more intelligent rats

Mmmmmm... breaded rats.

Spooky (1, Funny)

chebucto (992517) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963762)

While I know that this sort of research is ultimately aimed at improving human life, for some reason I can't shake the image of a mad scientist making super-smart dogs, the experiment going awry, and an apocalyptic future of human-pitbull wars.

Re:Spooky (2, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963958)

The name escapes me, but I read a SF story that speculated on that. With super intelligent mice, rats, cats and dogs, the rats and cats ate the mice, the dogs ate the cats, then the really smart ones teamed up with people against the rats and other dogs.

Fair point, they'd be smart enough to realise the value of opposable thumbs. Using can openers for one thing.

Re:Spooky (2, Insightful)

rastilin (752802) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964338)

While I know that this sort of research is ultimately aimed at improving human life, for some reason I can't shake the image of a mad scientist making super-smart dogs, the experiment going awry, and an apocalyptic future of human-pitbull wars.

On that note it won't matter even if they succeed. This country is almost certain to ban it on the basis that it gives the beneficiaries an "unethical advantage" over others. After all we already have piracetam which supposedly does something similar, and that's banned.

The rats' name is not 'Algernon', or is it? (5, Insightful)

treczoks (64329) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963778)

"Flowers for Algernon" was the first association that popped up from the depths of my mind...

Re:The rats' name is not 'Algernon', or is it? (1)

tsstahl (812393) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964478)

I went with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Their leader is a rat formed in a lab...

Re:The rats' name is not 'Algernon', or is it? (1)

OshMan (1246516) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964654)

Me too, but if there are any younger folks on the list perhaps N.I.M.H or even "the Brain" would strike the same nerve.

So the meaning of life changes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29963794)

3 * 42 = 126?

or does this work exponentially :)

Strangely enough, but to prove I am not a bot in a post about evolving mice I needed to type evolve into the textfield.

The world needs this.... (2, Insightful)

gilesjuk (604902) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963814)

We need this about as much as we need a much stronger more deadly flu virus.

When rats are vermin and carry disease, why make them even better a survival? or are they scientists thinking that if they get clever enough they'll start writing software for a living?

Re:The world needs this.... (2, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963902)

I wish there was a "-1, pathetically paranoid party pooper" mod..

Re:The world needs this.... (4, Interesting)

ktappe (747125) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964246)

I wish there was a "-1, pathetically paranoid party pooper" mod..

I'm glad there's not, because this really is a dangerous thing. If one of these rats escapes we will be in for some hurting. Rats are already rather smart--they know what traps are and how to avoid them, for example. Go live in a rat-infested portion of a city and then tell us again anyone objecting to this experiment is "paranoid".

Death Notice (1)

conspirator57 (1123519) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964492)

We regret to inform the /. community that the above user was found dead in an alley this afternoon, apparently a victim to an attack by R.o.U.S.es.

Re:The world needs this.... (4, Funny)

Gerafix (1028986) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964508)

The solution is easy, we just have to breed smarter cats and let them loose. What could possibly go wrong?

Re:The world needs this.... (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964622)

I've never even seen any rats outside of a petstore, sorry, let alone know of any "rat-infested" areas.. I've seen one live mouse and plenty of dead mice and voles caught by our cats over the years, but no rats.

I still think it's stupid to let paranoia get in the way of scientific progress. Yes, if one of them escapes then we could have slightly smarter rats in some places. Oh noes..

We've dealt with rat problems before. and we can do it again if necessary :P It's one of the things that scientific progress is good for.

Re:The world needs this.... (1)

fataugie (89032) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964596)

Ever have a rat in your house (other than your brother in law)? I have. They are smart enough.
Last thing I need is one that figures out how to change the locks when I'm at work.

The last little bastard cost me over $1500 in damages the last time. I really don't need a smarter one, thanks anyway.

Re:The world needs this.... (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963978)

The world doesn't need this rat.
But perhaps our kids will actually also have a better memory because of it. Then they can all still remember the history lessons they learned in school when they get to a position of power. And humanity will actually be able to learn from mistakes made in the past. And the world will be a better place. Free drinks for everyone.

Re:The world needs this.... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964652)

Actually they will just remember better how they not learned the history sessions, and successfully cheated at their less-intelligent teachers who didn't yet have the genetic enhancement.

Re:The world needs this.... (2, Funny)

Wargames (91725) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963998)

Did you consider a smarter rat might learn some ratonal hygiene and stop carrying deseases? Rats would write more ratonal software.

Re:The world needs this.... (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964018)

Strangely enough, there's an i in rational.

Unless you're an engineer; then it isn't strange at all: there's no j.

Finally, Something To Replace (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29963822)

the illiterate and innumerate U.S.A. population.

From Literacy In the U.S.A. [wikipedia.org] :

"Thus, if this bottom quantile of the study is equated with the functionally illiterate, and these are then removed from those classified as literate, then the resultant literacy rate for the United States would be at most 65-85% depending on where in the basic, minimal competence quantile one sets the cutoff."

Yous In Baikonur,
Kilgore T.

Memory is an interesting thing (5, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963840)

Even the most forgetful person can be reminded of an event and recall it with vivid clarity. Alzheimer's sufferers can overcome some of the difficulties of the disease with a device like the Life Recorder [techcrunch.com].

So when we say that someone's (or some rat's) memory is improved, what exactly is improved? Is it the recall ability? If so, does that mean that the rat is somehow able to logically filter out unnecessary information to reach the important memory? Or does it mean that the rat's memory has been structured in a better way? Is it only a spatial thing, or can it work for any type of information?

As someone with a bad memory, I would be very interested in understanding how this actually works within the rat's brain.

Larger L2 (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964248)

Larger L2 cache.

I say that somewhat jokingly, but picked L2 as an imperfect analogy. RAM or L3 could also work. But basically, it appears these rats can remember a larger short term list. Not the immediate data (wall in front of me / L1), not all data (everything learned to date / RAM), but a working set of reference data (maze directions / L2)

Again, this is just my half joking analogy. Please feel to modify or disregard.

Re:Memory is an interesting thing (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964332)

Hmmm... so the event is still there in our memory, we just can't locate it? So this is like increasing the size of the hash table it's indexed with, perhaps...

Pinky and the Brain (1)

BaldNerd (731451) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963862)

It's Pinky and the Brain, Pinky and the Brain. One is a genuis The other's insane. They're laboratory mice Their genes have spliced. NARF!

Faster Memory? (4, Funny)

Xebikr (591462) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963884)

Activating a crucial brain receptor for just a fraction of a second longer produces a dramatic effect on memory

So they overclocked the rats? Cool!

Re:Faster Memory? (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963930)

No, I think they added a bit or two to the serially-transmitted address size.

They tripled the memory size, so I'm still trying to figure out whether this implies that our brains operate in base-3 or whether some of the newly-created address space is unaddressable for reasons yet unknown.

Re:Faster Memory? (3, Funny)

new death barbie (240326) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964172)

...whether some of the newly-created address space is unaddressable for reasons yet unknown.

You need a 64-bit rat to access all the extra memory space.

Re:Faster Memory? (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964266)

You're thinking of a parallel architecture, where a longer address takes more bus connections. In a serial connection, it just takes longer to transmit it. It's more of a firmware update than a hardware mod.

Intellligence and Genes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29963928)

So we are all agreed then that genes can have a major impact on intelligence? And it follows then that like the genes for say height and pigmentation, the genes that contribute to intelligence have different distribution patterns in different populations? And that James Watson was unfairly pilloried for his opinions on this matter?

Re:Intellligence and Genes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29964480)

Sorry, but the heterogenic-and-equal society is more a religion than a science, except that the only people who wanted to limit that particular religion lost the war and the inquisition is still going strong. I'd agree if I could, but I can't, so I won't.

We already knew it worked for mice (5, Insightful)

tgibbs (83782) | more than 4 years ago | (#29963950)

Kind of old news; the first report that NR2B overexpression improves rodent performance in some behavioral tests of learning and memory was was published in 1999 [ttp]. The nice thing here is that the investigators now have it working in the rat, which is a more difficult animal for transgenic studies, and a better one for behavioral work and electrophysiology.

Nevertheless, it raises an interesting question: if intelligence can be increased by something so simple as an increase in the expression of a single NMDA receptor subunit, why hasn't it already happened? Presumably, there is a selective advantage to improved learning and memory. Presumably, there is some kind of downside that balances that selective advantage. Are there other behaviors for which the rat is impaired?

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (2, Funny)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964038)

Nevertheless, it raises an interesting question: if intelligence can be increased by something so simple as an increase in the expression of a single NMDA receptor subunit, why hasn't it already happened? Presumably, there is a selective advantage to improved learning and memory. Presumably, there is some kind of downside that balances that selective advantage.

The downside is that now the Rats crave human brains...

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (4, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964082)

> Presumably, there is some kind of downside that balances that selective
> advantage.

Higher energy requirements would be a good bet.

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (1)

tgibbs (83782) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964302)

Higher energy requirements would be a good bet.

It's a possibility, but I don't think so. The receptors don't use a lot of energy. The baseline cost of maintaining the neurons won't change. So the main incremental cost will be the pump costs for repolarizing after action potentials. But it doesn't seem likely that overall firing is massively increased, or they'd probably be seizing.

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964202)

If intelligence is a benefit, why aren't all animals already as smart as humans?

You see... evolution does not work that way. It is not zero-sum. It is not itself intelligent. It is perfectly possible that such a mutation is entirely beneficial, but simply hadn't occurred naturally.

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (5, Insightful)

debrain (29228) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964324)

Presumably, there is a selective advantage to improved learning and memory. Presumably, there is some kind of downside that balances that selective advantage. Are there other behaviors for which the rat is impaired

As you suggest, there are two possibilities why this advantage hasn't occurred naturally:

1. It adds no selective advantage;

2. The advantage is outweighed by the costs.

There is a third possibility, namely that the set of mutations necessary to give rise to this advantage are too improbable to occur (or perhaps even fundamentally impossible).

Based on no knowledge whatsoever, I suspect that there probably is some selective advantage to higher intelligence in rats, over long enough periods of time. I hypothesize that the rats lack the ability to effectively dissipate heat from a highly active brain, and concurrently those evolutions that allow more effective dissipation of heat (e.g. baldness) are contrary to (or have never occurred concurrent with) the selective advantage of the intelligence. Perhaps we will breed intelligent, bald rats. [salon.com]

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964434)

I hypothesize that the rats lack the ability to effectively dissipate heat from a highly active brain,

That's probably a pretty poor hypothesis. Heat rejection depends in part on the surface area to volume ratio. It's easier to reject heat from something small than something big. In fact, small mammals have a hard time just keeping their temperatures UP.

I'd guess it costs energy that could be used for reproduction or maturing faster or just getting away from predators. But that is just a wild guess, too.

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (2, Funny)

RJBeery (956252) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964392)

Nevertheless, it raises an interesting question: if intelligence can be increased by something so simple as an increase in the expression of a single NMDA receptor subunit, why hasn't it already happened?

It HAS happened, but those affected (rats included) simply can't get laid to propagate the phenomenon...

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (1)

topcoder (1662257) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964506)

Presumably, there is some kind of downside that balances that selective advantage. Are there other behaviors for which the rat is impaired?

Rats now become socially awkward, start becoming interested in programming and videogames, so losing any chance to succesfully reproduce.

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (1)

MattSausage (940218) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964520)

Well, my understanding of evolution is that it only works on disadvantageous genes. Specifically, a trait has to keep a rat from reproducing, or reproduce less often in order to weed out that trait. Perhaps the reason this hasn't come up naturally is because there is no pressure exerted on the rat's reproductive cycle if he can't remember as long as some other rat. Basically, a rat only has to be as smart as necessary to reproduce. Perhaps there is no advantage to a longer memory, remembering longer simply doesn't get you more tail.

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (1)

xianthax (963773) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964536)

Presumably, there is some kind of downside that balances that selective advantage.

massive assumption and very wrong from my experience.

In the US for instance the average high school drop out has more children than the average college graduate. Quite often you can see that the least educated and least rationally thinking humans end up with the most children, thus are making the larger contribution to the gene pool. Not that education level is directly correlated to intelligence, but i think there is some link.

Re:We already knew it worked for mice (1)

conspirator57 (1123519) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964566)

maybe remembering all the crap you did to other rats (or people) to survive (steal their resources) causes depression and reduces liklihood of reproduction.

We as a society certainly have a selective memory and blinkered recognition of history and current events.

Hmmmm . . . . (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29964048)

Biological overclocking. How long before they try nitrogen cooling?

Re:Hmmmm . . . . (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964128)

Biological overclocking. How long before they try nitrogen cooling?

Uhmmm, Nitrogen is the largest single constituent of the Earth's atmosphere (78.082% by volume, 75.3% by weight) so they already have.

American Bar Association Sees Job Threat (1)

Capablanca (100250) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964050)

is it true the smart rats escaped and made a beeline to 85 Broad St, NY, NY?

How the Rat Wars began (1)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964072)

At 2:14 am on August 29th, NR2B+ A23, aka "Pinky", became self-aware. After a brief bout of tail chasing, coupled with a sudden realization, "Holy crap, I'm a f'ing rat." Pinky began to fear being shut down by his creators.

And so it began....

at what cost? (5, Insightful)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964080)

Due to his enhanced memory, the rat could not push her out of his mind. The memories refused to fade with time. The slightest sight or scent would cause him not just to remember his intense passion and total devotion, but also to relive it, as if she were still there with him. Moments later, as reality returned, he inevitably re-experienced that October afternoon when she left. The despair cut to the bottom of his soul in a way far more intense than the original break-up had been, as shock had initially numbed his pain. No more. His perfect memory of perfect happiness lifted him up so high, the inevitable fall came from an unimaginable height, and terminal velocity does not apply to emotions.

After enduring this torture for what seemed an eternity, he finally gave in, and resolutely marched toward the wire-framed cheese, her angelic body still vivid in his mind...

Re:at what cost? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29964354)

Don't worry. Once science comes up with a cure for sex, your rat will be able to move on to something else.

TL;DR (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29964116)

We need like... 4 page reviews, maximum.

Other Rodent Upgrade Experiments (5, Interesting)

Garrett Fox (970174) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964232)

About eight years ago I read about a line of experiments that measurably increased rodents' performance in a set of memory and learning tasks. I believe the genetic change involved the NMDA receptor, but a quick search doesn't turn up an obvious link to that.

There was a report this September [scienceblogs.com] that gene therapy had been used to grant "full" color vision to colorblind monkeys, following on an earlier experiment that did the same thing to rodents. That is, the rodents were given three-color vision where they normally have two color receptor types. (Would that make them transrodents?) Apparently, the brain automatically adapts to having a new receptor type installed in the retina! And the same technique could be used on humans to grant us a fourth receptor type, maybe a UV receptor gotten from parrots or something. I'd volunteer to have this done to one eye. (The first comment on this article [blogspot.com] presents a dissenting view that just because the monkeys were able to distinguish colors in greater detail than before, that shouldn't be taken as proof that they "have full color vision". All the more reason to try it in a human!)

The rodents could be in combination with cyborg cats though, as seen in this 1995 report [futurefeeder.com] of recognizable images read directly from a cat's visual cortex.

Re:Other Rodent Upgrade Experiments (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964524)

I'd personally be much more interested in infrared receptors...

I hear cotton is nearly transparent in the infrared range.

Doom doom doom! (1)

sammysheep (537812) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964250)

"The rats have gotten smarter...even problem solving intelligence...you know when that one looks at you, she's figuring things out..."

"Scientists were so concerned with whether or not they could make the perfect rat, they never stopped to ask if they should!"


- (Paraphrases a la J.P.)

Going the wrong way around (1)

Captain Spam (66120) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964350)

So let me get this straight: Scientists gave up on building a better mouse trap, for which the world have beaten a path to their doors, and instead they went the indirect route of building a better rat to chew a path through the world's doors?

Uh, can we please make sure these don't escape? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29964370)

I mean, having genetically modified plants spread through the world is one thing.

Having basically every animal around us given near chimpansee-like intelligence is an altogether different one.

Rats can, rarely and under extreme circumstances, eat a lot of different stuff. Including babies. (no kidding: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,255328,00.html). I would much rather have a stupid rat that starves to death, than an intelligent rat that goes to lengths to get access to stuff to eat. The same for birds and pretty much any other animal. "Intelligent cats" would probably make a great pet idea - but no so great if they start forming cat gangs to ambush and kill dogs.

We need this like a hole in the head... (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#29964372)

Man, that's all we need, to succumb to a plague of genetically engineered rats.

Tomorrow the Rat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29964470)

Time to call for Doomwatch

http://www.doomwatch.org/season1tomorrowtheratreview.html

Just what the word needs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29964670)

Thats just what the word needs, a smarter rat. YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!

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