Could the grey mouse lemur help researchers better study human disease? Mark Krasnow, MD, PhD, a Stanford professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, suspects so, and he and the (very cute and very small) animal are featured in this month's HHMI Bulletin.
In the article, writer Andrea Widener explains the need to find an animal model that more closely matches humans than the mouse (the current go-to in many research labs), and describes how a group of high-schoolers in Krasnow's lab first identified this animal - one of the world's smallest primates - as a possible alternative:
"We spent the entire summer trying to understand what would make a good model, since we had never been exposed to genetic model organisms before," [student Camille] Ezran says. It had to be small and easy to work with. Its brain, lungs, and other organs had to resemble those in humans. It had to reproduce fairly quickly. And it had to be more closely related to humans than mice were. Spending weeks in the library and on the Internet, the students constructed a spreadsheet of the world's smallest mammals, which they then narrowed to a dozen to examine in more detail.
The mouse lemur rose to the top...
Krasnow and colleagues visited Madagascar in 2010 to study the animal and are now "pushing forward with mouse lemur research, starting with seeking out additional samples and setting up collaborations with Malagasy scientists and other lemur biologists around the world." As Widener notes, the researchers believe that learning more about the lemur could also help preserve the endangered animals.
Previously: Mice to men: Immunological research vaults into the 21st century
Photo by Frank.Vassen