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Researchers Turn Mice Into Wine Snobs

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the masters-of-the-cheese-pairings dept.

Japan 80

Unsatisfied with the number of reasons people have to hate rodents already, scientists at Japan's Hiroshima University have taught mice to be wine snobs. After being trained to pick red wine over other kinds the mice were taught to distinguish between brands. From the article: "We examined performance of mice in discrimination of liquor odors by Y-maze behavioral assays. Thirsty mice were initially trained to choose the odor of a red wine in the Y-maze. After successful training (>70% concordance for each trained mouse), the individual mice were able to discriminate the learned red wine from other liquors, including white wine, rosé wine, sake, and plum liqueur."

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Duh. How much did we spend on this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35371280)

Animals use scent to find and remember pathways to food, mates, avoid predators, etc. For a scavenger like a mouse, it should be no surprise that they can use a particular scent to locate something, and then in the future associate that particular scent with where they have been successful in the past. I nominate these guys for an Ig Nobel.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (2)

thehostiles (1659283) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371348)

Not only that but the proximity of the olfactory bulbs to the amygdala allows the pairing of scent with emotion and reward learning to be very effective.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (1)

homey of my owney (975234) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372128)

Great... Like there's not enough wine snobs.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (4, Informative)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371440)

How much did we spend on this?

It depends.

Are you Japanese? If not, then "we" spent nothing on this.

If you are, then a lot of it depends on how the study was funded, and why it was performed. TFA is not very informative on that point.

Was this a grad student project that a few grad students needed to get some lab time under their belts, or a government-funded study? If it's a grad student study, then the expected result of the study was to spend a few dozen hours in the lab (the presence of alcohol probably made the boredom of the study more manageable) and get a passing grade on a research report. That there was any interesting science that emerged from a student's work is purely coincidental. If there's a use for this behavioral information, it would be a bonus.

Not every grad project is going to cure cancer, or even set out to cure it.

If this is a government-funded study, there may (or may not) be a larger goal at work. Perhaps it was a cheap way to see how sensitively mice could discern chemical scent patterns, without actually asking the scientists to work with Sarin ingredients or explosives? Maybe the school administration was doing a mouse study to pattern the behavior of undergrad students when they learn alcohol is in the building?

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371760)

Wasn't there some research a while back about training mice to sniff out explosives? I'm guessing it never went anywhere because people don't like the idea of a swarm of mice crawling over their luggage every time they fly.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (2)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371964)

people don't like the idea of a swarm of mice crawling over their luggage every time they fly.

I'm sure they'll like the idea of a swarm of mice crawling over their table when they dine even less...

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35374584)

Don't tell them a rat is the chef.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 3 years ago | (#35376374)

people don't like the idea of a swarm of mice crawling over their luggage every time they fly.

I'm sure they'll like the idea of a swarm of mice crawling over their table when they dine even less...

Waiter, this mouse is corked.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (1)

mirix (1649853) | more than 3 years ago | (#35374848)

I don't think mice are smart enough for that sort of business. Rats, on the other hand, been trained to sniff out land mines, and even TB.

bbc story [bbc.co.uk]
mines [apopo.org]

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (1)

Bowling Moses (591924) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372802)

Grad students for all practical purposes live in the laboratory...if you want to call that living anyway. At a moderate rate of 60 hours a week your lab hours count will be off by a couple orders of magnitude after the 6-7 years it takes to earn a Ph.D. Even if you intended to write "undergrads" you'd be giving them short shrift. Of the dozen or so undergrad lab mates I've had in the last 15 years the majority worked for several years in the same lab and were funded under one of the professor's grants. That's far more than a few dozen hours which even the laziest undergrad I've worked with accomplished inside of two months. Hell I've worked with four high school students through an apprenticeship program and three had over 500 hours in by the time their stint in the program was over.

However as you point out TFA is not informative as to the point of the study and how it was funded. Having had some small experience with research being reported by the media the odds are pretty good that the reporter and/or editor mangled the point of the research quite badly and if one wants to know why mice were being trained to distinguish wine you'd need to read the original research paper published in Chemical Senses [oxfordjournals.org] . The last paragraph of the introduction of scientific paper usually tells you why the researchers are doing their thing, and quoting that paragraph:

"Most naturally occurring odors are complex blends of volatile compounds. The way in which they are perceived depends upon the interactions between mixture components at the level of olfactory receptors (Derby 2000) as well as the way that component signals are processed in the olfactory bulb and olfactory cortex (Wilson and Stevenson 2003; Tabor et al. 2004). Because most of these inputs are irrelevant at any given moment, it should be more efficient to focus neural resources on a subset of the available information and ignore the rest (Luck 1998). However, to our knowledge, few papers have reported experimental evidence for selective attention in odor discrimination. In the present paper, we report behavioral evidence for selective attention in odor discrimination of mice. We found this evidence in the course of behavioral studies on the discrimination of liquor odors in mice using a Y-maze. Our initial interest was to assess if mice could discriminate different brands of liquors just by taking a sniff of them like an expert flavorist. Additionally, we also demonstrate that selective attention in the olfactory system of mice could be modified through their learning experiences."

Now as for how important and novel this is, it was published in 2008 and according to google scholar has been cited by other papers four times since. It's definitely not a huge paper but neither is it an embarrassment. If you've been doing science for more than 10 years chances are pretty good you'll have a paper with as low a citation rate as this.

As for weirdness, it pales compared to this: homosexual necrophilia in mallard ducks [guardian.co.uk] . You can get the Ig Nobel-winning research paper here [google.com] , complete with pictures of the deed. If you really want to.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (1)

adamofgreyskull (640712) | more than 3 years ago | (#35373020)

Or the more obvious option: The mice are merely extensions into our universe of supremely intelligent pan-dimensional beings. They wanted to get loaded and trained grad students to put booze in their mazes. Simples.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35371612)

Wine is supposed to be a good accompaniment to cheese, after all...

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371758)

But mice do not really seek cheese. I have kept both mice and rats as pets and they far prefer nuts and breads to cheese. If you want to trap mice peanut butter is really the best bait, as it sticks to the trap and they love it.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35377534)

It's just a sample size of...one, but cheese tended to induce a sort of amok in my rat. Not sure how its rarity (dairy products are supposedly a bit unhealthy to rodents after all) influenced the reaction.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (1)

BoberFett (127537) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372890)

This could have been done very cheaply. Just leave their cages sitting in a room with the movie Sideways playing on auto-repeat.

Re:Duh. How much did we spend on this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35373016)

1.Train mice to smell the good stuff
2. Sell the mice
3. Profit.

Your tax dollars at work (4, Funny)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371292)

"My name is Mickey Mouse, and I'm an alcoholic."

Re:Your Japanese tax dollars at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35371462)

there *Fixed* the subject for ya...

Re:Your Japanese tax dollars at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35371668)

I am Japanese, you insensitive crod!

Re:Your tax dollars at work (1)

heretic108 (454817) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371482)

"My name is Mickey Mouse, and I'm an alcoholic."

"Hi Mickey!"

Re:Your tax dollars at work (2)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371506)

"My name is Mighty Mouse... and it's been six months since my last Peach Schnapps."

Re:Your tax dollars at work (4, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372848)

"Me llamo Speedy Gonzales, and I am seis milliseconds sober. Does anyone want to eat the worm?"

Re:Your tax dollars at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35376346)

good point

Re:Your tax dollars at work (2)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371778)

He Mickey's defense, he was quite depressed after finding out that Minnie was fucking Goofy...

Re:Your tax dollars at work (2)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372540)

"My name is Mickey Mouse, and I'm an alcoholic."

Mickey, what the HELL did you do to Britney Spears? Look at what she's turned into, you filthy rat!!!

Re:Your tax dollars at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35454744)

Surely just Mickey? He doesn't want to blow his anonymity.

What a wonderful aroma (3, Funny)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371346)

Fruity, with a dash of buck-toothed pretentious asshole. Yes, yes, a wonderful vintage indeed.

headline change... (2)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371366)

Researchers turn mice into winos

Fixed that for them.

What for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35371372)

What is this sort of research good for?

Really, I'm curious. All it seems to prove is that yes, mice have a sense of smell, and they can use it to smell things and distinguish between different smells. Don't tell me we didn't know that before.

I'm concerned by this, too, because in the end, mice are still animals. I'm not against experimenting on animals if it's necessary and if there's no alternatives, e.g. for drug tests, but what does this accomplish? The mice are suffering for no good reason. (And yes, as lab animals, they are suffering. Again, this can be justified in other cases, but what is the justification here?)

Re:What for? (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371624)

Additionally it prooves that differnt alcoholic drinks have different aromas.

So nothing new at all.

IMHO wine snob would have been right if they taught mice to prefer _expensive_ wines

Re:What for? (2)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371648)

If I were to guess, its for the war on terror and the war on drugs.

Most people don't realize that if we were serious about either, you wouldn't see dogs at airports and in the back of squad cars. In fact, you would see pigs. Pigs are more easily trained, have a better sense of smell, and have been proven to do the job equally, if not better. Pigs are also thought to be smarter than dogs and as such, learn faster; which in turn drives down training costs.

Along these lines, which brings us full circle, I recently saw a blurb on the news specifically talking about small rodents being used to sniff luggage at airports.

Re:What for? (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371996)

Pigs are more easily trained, have a better sense of smell, and have been proven to do the job equally, if not better. Pigs are also thought to be smarter than dogs and as such, learn faster; which in turn drives down training costs.

Besides, Muslim extremists hate pigs so much they wouldn't want to fly if that meant being smelled by a pig.

Re:What for? (1)

avgjoe62 (558860) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372246)

Extremists - any sort of extremists - don't care. They're going to heaven anyway, no matter what they do, and everyone else is going to hell. This is why Christian extremists violate the golden rule and Muslim extremists frequent strip clubs and consume alcohol. They believe they already are on the bullet train to Paradise, so it won't matter if they eat some pork.

The faithful that obey every stricture and commandment are the same ones that obey "You shall not kill."

Re:What for? (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372470)

Just fyi, I'm not sure why this was modded funny. The post is serious. Pigs are very trainable, are on average smarter than dogs, and have a better sense of smell. Not to mention, rodents are being trained and studied to sniff luggage at airports.

Re:What for? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371884)

Really, I'm curious. All it seems to prove is that yes, mice have a sense of smell, and they can use it to smell things and distinguish between different smells. Don't tell me we didn't know that before.

The chemicals in wine might be different to the ones that mice have evolved to distinguish through natural exposure.

So the fact that they can learn a new domain, for want of a better word, could be new.

Re:What for? Its for making poor article summaries (1)

avandesande (143899) | more than 3 years ago | (#35373524)

I bet a human with no experience in wines could easily tell red wine and sake apart- their odor is completely different. One is made from grapes and the other made from rice!
Yes, I would be impressed if the mice could differentiate between two competing brands, say a Merlot from competing wineries...

Re:What for? (1)

OutSourcingIsTreason (734571) | more than 3 years ago | (#35373848)

The big payoff will come when the scientists take the next step and figure out how to turn wine snobs into mice.

Another example (1)

SimonTS (1984074) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371424)

of Mickey Mouse research?

Isn't this some form of twisted animal cruelty? (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371446)

Or did they get the wine snob genes from PETA activists? Hmmm......

onion (1)

jarrodlikesmath (1795858) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371472)

The title definitely sounds like an Onion article

Re:onion (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372420)

I think the fine folks at The Onion would have known that Sake isn't a type of wine.

No doubt this is worthy ... (1)

ClickOnThis (137803) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371484)

... of an IgNobel prize. Maybe two: Chemistry and Biology.

Re:No doubt this is worthy ... (1)

ClickOnThis (137803) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371516)

... of an IgNobel prize. Maybe two: Chemistry and Biology.

Oh hell, throw in Behavioral Psychology too. Make it a trifecta.

Re:No doubt this is worthy ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35371804)

Why? We use animals to detect bombs etc. Should we not understand this process better?

Re:No doubt this is worthy ... (1)

ClickOnThis (137803) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372216)

Why? We use animals to detect bombs etc. Should we not understand this process better?

Of course. But, as the IgNobel website says:

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.

Look, this is funny. Let's just enjoy the laughing part for now.

This sounds like an Ig Nobel to me (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371526)

So what are you up to, professor number 1? "Oh, I'm cooking up some cold fusion, in my basement." And you, professor number 2? "Oh, I'm making gasoline from algae." Now to professor number 3, what is your area of research? "I'm training mice to become wine connoisseurs. Hey, don't laugh, my mice gave a Château Mouton Rothschild five squeaks!"

So the next time that I'm in a expensive restaurant, and they ask if I want to look at the wine menu, I'll just pull a mouse out of my pocket. And say, "My expert here, will just take a quick scamper through your wine cellar, and find the best wine."

hasn't Douglas Adams already addressed this? (1)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371530)

How do we know the mice weren't tricking the researchers into thinking they (the mice) weren't wine snobs already?

The Universe is neither friendly nor hostile; it is merely absurd. This story's set-up for a thousand wiseacre Slashdot comments is yet more proof that Adams was on the right track, after all.

In Soviet Russia ... (1)

sourcerror (1718066) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371560)

wine snobs are turned into mice.

snob mice (1)

negrace (984807) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371564)

I, for one, welcome our new snob overlords.

Meanwhile... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35371690)

Still no cure for cancer.

Next up for researchers: (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371732)

Hipster mice! With tiny hoodies, dark framed glasses, and Starbucks cups!

Still more evidence that I'm in the wrong line of work...

Re:Next up for researchers: (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371892)

That sounds easier than when I tried to train gangsta mice. Their little paws just weren't strong enough to hold their pistols sideways.

in other news (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#35371974)

Unsatisfied with the number of reasons people have to hate rodents already, scientists at Japan's Hiroshima University have taught mice to be wine snobs.

Lucky they didn't train them to use Macs. The Japanese are sadistic bastards who eat dolphins alive but that would be going too far even for them.

Re:in other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35378422)

Hopefully you're trying to use humour drier than a nice Merlot, but hopefully everyone realises that there's no live dolpin eating going on in Japan or any other country.

This reminds me of the most godawful thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35372040)

...I've ever eaten. On the shinkansen going to Hiroshima, the snack cart had some regional flavors. So I decided to try Hiroshima Wine Pocky.
It was, coincidentally, like chewing on rat poison.

Try beer! (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372052)

[11:40am] Mousey Are you a wine snob? :P
11:40AM no, i'm a beer snob

Training? booooring.. (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372056)

I was hoping they implanted some DNA from Robert Parker and gave it a typewriter...

what a scam...wish I'd though of it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35372150)

Hey Wing... how can we get a good supply of nice wine and other alcoholic drinks? I don't know, Yoshi, I can't even afford enough wine to get my pet mouse Meeka drunk! Your mouse drinks wine?! Well, yeah, the last bottle I had, I fed him a teaspoon of it. He got all happy and started bumping into things, so I didn't give him any more. Think he'd do it again? He likely would, yeah. Cool, lets get the school to buy a bunch of booze...I mean wine and other stuff... Meeka can have his teaspoon full from each bottle, and we can have the rest. :)

Side Effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35372302)

Weirdly, scientists also found that the mice showed a group affinity toward various products made by Apple like the iPad and iPhone. Even stranger, many of the mice started wearing little black turtleneck shirts in their cages.

Editor thinks a wine snob... (0)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372386)

is someone who can differentiate white, rose, and red wine.

My, oh my.

Re:Editor thinks a wine snob... (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 3 years ago | (#35373264)

Okay, that may not live up to human standards for a wine snob, but come on, it's a mouse. By mouse standards, that's highly discriminating.

Re:Editor thinks a wine snob... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35373360)

Do a blind test with a glass of chilled red wine and a white wine at room temperature.

Most people guess that the chilled wine is white.

Re:Editor thinks a wine snob... (3, Insightful)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 3 years ago | (#35373846)

is someone who can differentiate white, rose, and red wine.

Right. Because in point of fact, wine snobs can't do so [astrocyte-design.com] :

M Brochet carried out two studies. In the first, he invited 54 of Bordeaux's eminent wine experts to sample different bottles, including a white wine to which he had added a flavourless substance giving it a red colour. Not a single expert noticed. âoeIt is a well known psychological phenomonen â" you taste what you are expecting to taste,â M Brochet said. âoeThey were expecting to taste a red wine, and so they did.â Similar experiments elsewhere had come up with similar results.

âoeAbout 2 or 3 per cent of people detect the white wine flavour, but invariably they have little experience of wine culture. Connoisseurs tend to fail to do so. The more training they have, the more mistakes they make because they are influenced by the colour of the wine.â

You're better off with the trained mice.

Re:Editor thinks a wine snob... (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35377508)

In fact, the most important is the amount of green stuff [stanford.edu] .

Not true wine snobs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35372954)

Yes, but have they have trained to believe that wine tastes better from a thin glass?

And in other news... (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372964)

.... Wizards Turn Wine Snobs Into Mice.

Re:And in other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35377532)

Oh yeah, aight. Aight, I put on my robe and wizard hat.

How about the other way around? (1)

sydsavage (453743) | more than 3 years ago | (#35372972)

Now, if only they could turn wine snobs into mice...

Re:How about the other way around? (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 3 years ago | (#35377032)

Now, if only they could turn wine snobs into mice...

Peter Pettigrew is that you?

I wonder (1)

Sla$hPot (1189603) | more than 3 years ago | (#35373220)

I wonder how many crates of French Grand cru wines that they spend on this project.

A ratcist article (1)

GarryFre (886347) | more than 3 years ago | (#35373224)

I wonder if they could be trained to be wine slobs too. Then they could compare the two and find out if slobs or snobs are healthier.

Wine and Cheese (1)

Metabolife (961249) | more than 3 years ago | (#35373994)

They're the ultimate snobs now.

Ahh, but still.... (1)

twebb72 (903169) | more than 3 years ago | (#35375004)

the individual mice were able to discriminate the learned red wine from other liquors, including white wine, rosé wine, sake, and plum liqueur

But still can't tell the difference between Diet Dr. Pepper and regular Dr. Pepper.

This is a ridiculous research project. (1)

ChucktheMan (1991030) | more than 3 years ago | (#35376150)

This is just proving that mice can smell. Anyone that deals with mice can tell them that, and without a research grant as well. Next they should prove that dogs can identify burrito eaters from their intestinal gaseous excretion.

Researchers Turn Mice Into Wine, Snobs (1)

strawberryutopia (1301435) | more than 3 years ago | (#35376478)

Would have been a much more interesting article

Wait, wait... you're saying that mice can SMELL? (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 3 years ago | (#35377936)

Thank SCIENCE! we finally know the answer to that question. Research money well spent.

Difference doesn't mean better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35378340)

I can tell the difference between two wines. That doesn't mean that one of those wines is 'better' than the other.

The mice have not been trained to be wine snobs. In order to do that the mice would have to insist that one wine was special, that it was worth dying for, and that it was well worth the $3000 price tag. They would also have to adopt a thoughtful expression while drinking and learn to raise an eyebrow when some other mouse claimed that there was no difference. There is a lot to being a wine snob beyond merely being aware of a difference. Being able to tell the difference requires sensitivity and judgement. Being a wine snob requires acting skills and low self esteem.

No mouse is that stupid.

I can see a lot of potential for a cheese and wine party though.

Mice have a sense of smell? (1)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | more than 3 years ago | (#35378882)

Who knew?

It would have been funnier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35401660)

the other way around.

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