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The Intelligent Mouse Project

A new Mouster Race.
  [vote for,

As far as we know, we are the only really smart species on earth. (Yes, OK - dolphins have learned to be at one with nature, yada yada. But seriously.) We had a brief period of overlap with the Neanderthals, who were probably pretty smart, but now we're all on our own.

So, I was wondering how long it would take us to make another intelligent species.

The logical starting point would be chimps or gorillas (or dolphins), but there's no fun in that. For one thing, they're all big and they breed slowly - perhaps more slowly than is essential for a clever animal - and these factors will be bothersome. Also, if we start with chimps, it's cheating because they're already almost smart, and we'll probably just wind up with something which is smart in the same way we are.

So, we should start with mice, which are small, fast- breeding, amenable and stupid. How long would it take us to breed a mouse (or mouse descendent) with intelligence comparable to our own?

Well, we can take natural evolution as a baseline. Evolution went from small, mouseish mammals to humans in (very roughly) 100 million years. Can we do better?

First, we need to know what resources natural evolution used - specifically, the population size. This is important, because a larger population will (other things being equal) throw up useful mutants faster than a smaller population. For most of our history, we humans were small mammals; I'm therefore assuming that our ancestor's population could have been as high as a billion for much of the time (becoming much smaller, of course, in the later stages of evolution and during bottlenecks). So, we can assume that natural evolution can go from mouse to man given a population of 1 billion animals (or less) for 100 million years.

So, we'll start with 1 billion mice. Assuming that a mouse cage is a 20x20x20cm cube (crudely), this means that we need about 10^13 cubic centimetres of mousery, or a cube about 200 metres on a side.

Of course, we will also need all of the mouse-tending apparatus, including a wide range of intelligence tests, which will become more challenging as we go along. Assuming that everything can be automated, with the cages in huge tiers served by robotic arms, I'm guessing that a building 200 metres high, 400m wide and 400m long ought to do it. This would be equivalent to 10 of NASAs Vehicle Assembly Building, so it's clearly not prohibitive.

The building might need to be enlarged in the later stages of evolution, but we can worry about that later.

OK, so we have a billion mice. Do we still have to wait 100 million years to get a smart one? By Jove, no!

First of all, we can increase the rate of mutation in the mice, using either radiation or mutagenising chemicals in the food. The natural mutation rate (to the extent of producing significant phenotypic effects) is probably pretty low - perhaps a percent or two (in other words, perhaps a percent of all live-born mice have a genetic as opposed to developmental anomaly). We can afford to make this at least ten-fold higher, since mice are prolific and a 10% mortality isn't a problem as long as they don't have to compete with wild mice. (Of course, almost all of these 10% of anomalies will be fatal or deleterious - it's the very rare beneficial ones that we select for).

So, with a 10-fold higher mutation rate, all other things being equal, we will get 10-fold faster evolution. (Pauses to allow outraged comments - but this is a reasonable crude approximation.) So, we're down to 10 million years to make a smart mouse.

Impatient? Of course we are! So:

We have the advantage of artificial, rather than natural selection. In the wild, a mouse which is 10% smarter than its siblings may have only a 1% advantage in terms of survival. In all likelihood, it will be eaten or will die of disease long before it faces a situation where its brains are of any help. Indeed, since a brain consumes a lot of resources, a greater intelligence may even be a handicap (after all, mice do pretty well, and haven't evolved intelligence in the wild). In other words, the selective power for intelligence in the wild is very weak.

But, in our system, we are constantly testing the mice to detect even modest increases in intelligence. A mouse which is measurably smarter can be given a 100% chance of survival, and can also be bred from intensively, with all of its progeny likewise nurtured and propagated. Therefore, I think it's reasonable to assume something like at least 100-fold better selection than nature provides (10- to 100- fold more likelihood of a useful individual being selected for; 10- to 30-fold faster propagation of that individual's genes through the population). So now we're down to 100,000 years.

Can we do any better? Well, possibly. For one thing, nature is short-sighted, and doesn't plan ahead. Perhaps an individual is born with a skull that fuses later (which is good, in terms of allowing for more brain growth in early life), but that mutation is selected against in the wild unless that individual has already evolved the bigger, longer-growing brain. With artificial selection, we can pamper and preserve such pre-adaptations, knowing that they'll be useful later. In other words, we don't need all of our mutations to happen in the right order, in the way that nature does. A little maths suggests that we might get an advantage of maybe 10-fold (or potentially much more) by taking advantage of this trick. So we're down to 10,000 years.

Another advantage is that individuals with useful mutations can be bred together. In the wild, Useful Mutation A will not breed with Useful Mutation B until both mutations have spread to a respectable fraction of the population. In our experiment, where we will cull most individuals and breed the few useful ones at each generation, there will be many more opportunities for synergistic mutations to meet eachother. Sexual reproduction is very popular in the wild, precisely because it allows this meeting of mutations - our experiment will magnify this advantage hugely. It's probably conservative to say that the selected mating (on top of the selection of individuals) will give us another 10- fold advantage, taking us down to 1,000 years. Still a lot of mouse-poop to deal with, but getting better.

Finally, there is one more time-saver. In nature, a bigger brain has to be very well supported by a host of other developments. For instance, the body has to be able to physically and metabolically support the bigger brain while still being able to flee from predators. Hands have to be good enough to make use of the bigger brain to justify this cost, and so on. But our mice are pampered, and are being selected only for intelligence (plus a minimal ability to survive and breed). So, they can get away with somewhat fewer supporting adaptations than our ancestors needed. We might squeeze a two-fold advantage out of all this at the very least, getting us down to 500 years.

Of course, as the mice get smarter and have bigger brains, it's likely that their generation time will increase. But, in starting from our baseline (100Myr) of natural evolution, this was a factor too, so in a sense it is already allowed for. However, to be on the safe side, we would perhaps want to select (on a secondary level) for short generation times. Of course a bigger brain (and somewhat bigger body) takes more time to grow, but it needn't be as long as a human generation time. In some of the junglier parts of Norfolk, generation times can be as short as 13 years for humans. If we remove the need to be physically capable of rearing offspring, I'm pretty sure a species could evolve with a human-sized brain and a generation time of two or three years. All that's needed (in absolute terms) is that the individual can grow to several times its own birthweight. (Of course, once we get a smart mouse, we might then want to breed it for longevity, so that it has time enough to learn useful things. But that's a problem for later.)

Now, to stand back for a moment and see if this makes sense. Well, does it? First, we can look at selective breeding of things like dogs. (Dogs seem to have more propensity to variation than most species, but of course our mice are being mutagenized, so the comparison is not far-fetched.) We know we can go from generic dog to pekinese or collie in something like a century of selective breeding; we can even breed for quite big changes in intelligence in dogs on this timescale. Our mice will have a faster generation time, a far, far, far bigger population from which to select, and will be selected only for intelligence, so we might expect some pretty impressive results.

We can also try to do some numbers. From what we know of genomics, it's likely that something like 10,000 to 100,000 mutations would have to happen to go from mouse to man (there are many more base-level differences between mice and men, but almost all of these are of no relevance). From a billion mice, with their increased mutation rate (10%) we get 100,000,000 mutations per generation (remember, these are all mutations with phenotypes, since that's how we decide our level of mutagenesis). Of these, perhaps one in a million takes us in the right direction, giving 100 useful mutations per generation. Given a generation time of, say, two months (faster to begin with, slower as the mice get smarter and hence have bigger heads to grow), this gives us perhaps 300,000 useful mutations arising over 500 years. Allowing for some wastage (failure to spot useful mutations, for instance), we're still in the right ballpark.

So, there you have it. For the cost of 10 Vehicle Assembly Buildings and a lot of mouse food, we could have another intelligent species to chat with in a few centuries. As a byproduct, the facility will also produce something like 10,000 metric tons of useful, crop-fertilising mouse poop per _day_, which has to be a good thing. It will also yield 1 billion mouse bodies per year (at least), which will be a boon to the pet snake industry. In fact, with a little coordination and planning, we could run a parallel program to breed intelligent snakes at almost no additional cost.

MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

The House of Mouse http://www.jax.org/
If it happens, it'll be here. [Alterother, Jul 09 2012]

Ubermaus http://en.wikipedia...iki/%C3%9Cbermensch
[hippo, Jul 10 2012]

Uberintelligent Mouse http://en.wikipedia...ey's_House_of_Mouse
We're not so sure what genetic experiment created Goofy, though. [RayfordSteele, Jul 10 2012]

Another one... http://en.wikipedia..._and_the_Motorcycle
A true story. I swear! [RayfordSteele, Jul 10 2012]

Sheena 5 by Stephen Baxter http://www.vondanmc...Baxter-Sheena5.html
The Intelligent Squid Project [AusCan531, Jul 13 2012]

Pinky and The Brain (Sans Pinky) Pinky_20and_20The_2...in_20(Sans_20Pinky)
The Alternative Intelligent Mouse Project [Skewed, Jun 22 2016]

http://blog.science...in-outer-space.html Instead of auscan531's link which does not function anymore [pashute, Apr 21 2017]

Flowers for Algernon https://en.wikipedi...lowers_for_Algernon
A cautionary tale [8th of 7, Apr 21 2017]

"help me!" "help me!" https://www.youtube...watch?v=NTZhrwR7CoE
[xenzag, Apr 22 2017]


       First item. Read "Microcosmic God" by Theodore Sturgeon.   

       Second //Can we do better?// Yes. Directed evolution will inherently be more efficient than random.   

       Third //small, fast- breeding// both traits that are contra-indicators for intelligence. It's almost a certainty that breading for intelligence will increase size, increase gestation time, and increase time to physical maturity. It may or may not decrease litter size, but likely would, as the abillity to care for a large number of slower maturing intelligent post-mice would be problematic at best.
MechE, Jul 09 2012

       I met a whale once. Not on one of those whale-watching tours, either, but a real honest-to-goodness happenstance meeting wherein a very large whale decided to come and have a look at me at a very close range. This happened during a canoe trip across the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, which is such a foolish and terrifying endeavor that it has only been done once in recorded history.   

       Somewhere in the split second between realizing that it was entirely up to the whale whether I lived or died and the whale's decision that it was okay with him if I went on living, we looked each other in the eye and I realized that I had encountered a creature that was at least as intelligent as myself, but in a form so alien to my own intellect that there could be no understanding it beyond that point of mutual acknowledgement. Whenever some self-styled UFOlogist says 'we are not alone', I think, "no, we're not, and you're looking in the wrong direction."   

       So, before we go much further with this mouse project, I think we should probably ask the whales if they'd like to collaberate.   

       Oh, and [+].
Alterother, Jul 09 2012

       The problem, though, is that you're measuring and selecting for intelligence by human metrics, which pretty much invalidates the entire process if you're trying to develop a new kind of intelligence. Having gone through the thought experiment, there's almost no point in actually doing it.
ytk, Jul 09 2012

       That's exactly why I'm suggesting we introduce the whale intelligence metric. They'll notice things that we don't, and vice-versa.
Alterother, Jul 09 2012

       ////small, fast- breeding// both traits that are contra-indicators for intelligence.//   

       Yes, I know, and I sort of addressed that in the preantepenultimate paragraph.   

       Natural selection chooses between small, dumb fast-breeders and big, clever slow-breeders because that makes sense. But we don't have to. Nature does it because (a) it takes time to build a big brain (b) a big brain isn't any use unless it has time to learn and (c) a big brain needs a big body to carry it around and defend it.   

       We are largely eliminating (b); we are just assessing the innate intelligence of these mice as soon as their brains have mostly finished growing. You can tell that a baby is smarter than a puppy, even though neither has learned much. It's not perfect (a baby chimp is as smart as a baby human), but it's OK.   

       We are also greatly reducing (c), because we don't need our mice to be able to run around or defend themselves, ever.   

       Put it another way: there is no absolute biological reason why humans could not have evolved to reproduce at 1 or two years of age. It's just that the environment makes it impractical for them to do so, so we've evolved a long generation time.   

       Put it yet another way. A whale starts from a fertilized egg and, a year later, is born with a brain that weighs about 15kg and is very functional; a human brain weighs only 1-2kg. So, there is no fundamental physical reason why suitable artificial selection could not produce an intelligent animal with a generation time of a year or less.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       //The problem, though, is that you're measuring and selecting for intelligence by human metrics, which pretty much invalidates the entire process//   

       Yes, sure. We are imposing our own prejudices as to what constitutes intelligence. But that's inevitable. We choose not to define height or hairiness as intelligence, for example. When SETI looks for intelligent life, it imposes all kinds of necessary prejudices - but it'd still be cool if they found something.   

       I want something I can have a conversation with for fun, so there are all kinds of prejudices there.   

       But, suppose we define "intelligence" as the ability to score well on a regular IQ test. That still leaves a lot of scope, and it'd be fun to see what kind of thing emerged.   

       I would say, in fact, that it is "prejudiced" to say that any brain which does well on an IQ test would have to be similar to our own. It would be fun to see what walked out of the Mouse House - maybe it'd say hello and go and look for a MacDonalds, or maybe it would be very, very weird indeed.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       // whale ... at least as intelligent as myself// Well, this comes down to a matter of philosophy in the end, and also relates to [ytk]'s point.   

       The whale is bigger than we are, according to the way we define bigness. I don't think it's as intelligent as we are, by the way we define intelligence. That's just a result of the way we define intelligence, of course, but we define it in a way which is relevant to us, because we're doing the defining.   

       Without wishing to stir up the whole chicken noodle soup here, perhaps we could replace the word "intelligence" with something neutral like "bobbick", where "bobbick" means that we can converse and mentally interact with something in a way approximately like we interact with other people.   

       Put it another way. If we meet aliens that we think are "intelligent", we expect to be able to discuss mathematics with them and maybe connect with them enough to realize how weird they are. That's the sort of intelligence we're after in our ubermice.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       Well, what if you could design some set of conditions where being a smarter /mouse/ is likely to be an evolutionary benefit? I'm not sure what those would be, though. Perhaps some extreme set of circumstances that are highly unlikely, but theoretically possible to occur in nature? You might derive such a test by submitting a large number of mice through randomly generated trials, and observing which trials have mice succeed at rates approximating an expected bell curve distribution of intelligence.
ytk, Jul 09 2012

       //Well, what if you could design some set of conditions where being a smarter /mouse/ //   

       I'm not sure I follow but, if I understand, you're suggesting selecting for "being an intelligent mouse" (with the mice facing sophisticated mouse-world problems), rather than selecting for "human" intelligence?   

       If so, why? I don't want mice that are very, very good at being mice - nor even being very very good at being mice faced with complex problems.   

       All I want is a smart thing, at the end of the process. As it happens, a human (with human intelligence) is _extremely_ good at being an intelligent mouse: put a piece of cheese inside a locked box, and a human will figure out how to open it. But I don't want to evolve something specifically to solve murine problems (interesting though that may be).
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       //put a piece of cheese inside a locked box, and a human will figure out how to open it//   

       A really intelligent human will go to the cabinet and get peanut butter, which mice prefer anyway.
MechE, Jul 09 2012

       //Net result : sentient tribble.// Been tried. Went bad. The Welsh.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       // perhaps we could replace the word "intelligence" with something neutral like "bobbick", where "bobbick" means that we can converse and mentally interact //   

       In that case, I would say that whales are not bobbickable to humans. My experience with the whale, if it had taken conversational form, would have gone something like this:   

       Whale: "Hey."   

       Me: "Hey back atcha. You scared the bloody bejeezus out of me, by the way."   

       Whale: "Sorry, I didn't mean to do that."   

       Me: "No problem. Say, I can't help but notice that you're far more intelligent than my species generally believes."   

       Whale: "I'm surprised by how smart you are, as well. Too bad we can never relate to one another because there's no basis for comparison between our intellects."   

       Me: "Yeah, that sucks."   

       Whale: "It was nice meeting you, though."   

       Me: "Likewise, once I got over the shock. You should try not to sneak up on people. As a species, we're very jumpy. I think it has something to do with tigers."   

       Whale: "What's a tiger?"
Alterother, Jul 09 2012

       //I would say that whales are not bobbickal to humans. My experience with the whale, if it had taken conversational form, would have gone something like this//   

       Ah, and there we have the nub of the problem, for the exchange could not have taken conversational form. And I think it boils down to more than just a difference in language. We put a lot of effort, from time to time, into teaching animals to use human language, and also into trying to understand their own language. As far as I can see, the animals are much less ingenious at reciprocating, even though it's probably more important for a whale to talk to us ("Hey, please stop with the harpoons already!") than it is for us to talk to the whale.   

       To put it another way, we put a lot more effort into understanding animals than they do into understanding us. If that were not the case, whales would by now be organising human- watching trips in motorized aquaria.   

       (But kudos and admiration for your cetaceal experience.)
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       But why bother?   

       Is it to determine if such a thing /can/ be done? We already know it can. It's already happened in nature at least once. The genetic component of the problem is well understood, and we have a pretty darn good handle on the evolutionary component as well. So having shown that we certainly can do such a thing, there's no point in doing it just to see if we can.   

       Or is it simply something to do for the mere sake of achieving an end? If that's the case, why waste time trying to replicate and accelerate the natural process when we're practically on the cusp of being able to accomplish such things via genetic engineering? We already have the human and mouse genomes mapped, and the technology is there to splice in the relevant genes. All we'd have to do is isolate the sections that code for intelligence, and we might even have an “intelligent” mouse within our lifetimes.   

       Or is it something to do just for the sake of doing, like building a airplane from a kit? Well, okay, but I don't know that a pet project (so to speak) justifies the enormous resource and material cost, not to mention the ethical issues involved.   

       The only justification I can see for such an undertaking is to produce an entirely new kind of intelligence—something which we have potentially heretofore not even considered to be a form of intelligence. It would even be questionable if we could achieve this goal, due to our own biases as to what constitutes intelligence. But short of that, there has to be a better way to make mice less dumb.
ytk, Jul 09 2012

       // there's no point in doing it just to see if we can.//   

       Au contraire! I would love to do this just to see if we can.   

       //The only justification I can see// I see no justification whatsoever for doing this. But I am happy to proceed, like this annotation, unjustified.   

       Wouldn't you be interested in talking to a Neanderthal? I would. It wouldn't prove anything, and in fact its intelligence would be very, very similar to our own in degree and in kind. But it would still be cool. An evolved murine intelligence would solve the problems we set it, but its underlying intelligence would be, I suggest, more different than that of a Neanderthal.   

       Also, it would be interesting (which is enough for me) to know if other neuroanatomies could produce intelligence. Do we need all that cortical pleating, or can a different anatomy produce intelligence?   

       Also also, we already *know* that intelligence isn't related closely to brain size (whales don't do Sudokus ten times faster than we do). So, is there some arrangement of neurons that packs intelligence into a very small brain?   

       There are all kinds of interesting questions. Not useful questions, necessarily, just interesting. Or maybe just interesting to me. But these are my damn mice.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       //Wouldn't you be interested in talking to a Neanderthal? I would.//   

       I'm sure the Australian consulate would be more than happy to accommodate you with a tourist visa.
ytk, Jul 09 2012

       Yeah, but I'm not prepared to wear the sheep costume.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       //Well there are bits of Neanderthals and Denisovans in all of us. Quite a bit of interbreeding going on back then. // Well, there's never been a bit of a Neanderthal in _me_.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       Want some?
ytk, Jul 09 2012

       [Ubie], [ytk]. [ytk], [Ubie].
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       // kudos and admiration for your cetaceal experience. //   

       Thanks, [Max]. It definitely ranks among the highlights of my life. I've written a rather good 2,500-word essay about it, but so far nobody wants to publish it. I think they see the name and get all excited, then become very disappointed when they discover that it's not a piece of thought-provoking, perspective-challenging modern fiction where everybody dies at the end.
Alterother, Jul 09 2012

       //not a piece of thought-provoking, perspective- challenging modern fiction where everybody dies at the end.// Well, they just need to wait then, surely?   

       (I have never had the privilege of meeting a whale; the closest I've come is macaques. When they look you in the eye, you feel looked at.)
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       // Well, they just need to wait then, surely? //   

       Not even that, just look at some of my other work. All of my stories more or less run along the theme of people being horrible to each other, but for some reason all of the literary journals are fighting over that one story. I keep trying to tell them I've got fresh work, and they're all saying "No! We want the one that's already been published twice and isn't nearly as good as your new stuff!"   

       Are the primates at Gibraltar macaques? I've forgotten. It was a long time ago. I do remember one of them doing hilariously unpleasant things to the most obnoxious member of our tour group. Ah, it's good to reminisce...
Alterother, Jul 09 2012

       I think the Gibralter monkeys are indeed macaques, but that's not where I met them.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       I wouldn't have thought so. It seems far too pedestrian a destination for one of your stature.
Alterother, Jul 09 2012

       This has been thought up before. This should never be done.   

       The end product would be a species intelligent enough to notice its status as a second class citizen.
mitxela, Jul 09 2012

       //This has been thought up before.// Doubtless. Indeed, it may be why we are here.   

       //This should never be done. // There's a challenge.   

       //a species intelligent enough to notice its status as a second class citizen// Well, for the first few thousand years, we ought to be able to convince them that we're gods.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       //[Ubie], [ytk]. [ytk], [Ubie].//   

       If only you were here and I had a white glove, [Max].
ytk, Jul 09 2012

       //If only you were here and I had a white glove, [Max].//   

       That's a very kind offer, but I already have a butler who travels with me, [ytk].
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2012

       The hard limit on mice intelligence is when they become clever enough to escape from [Max]'s experiment.
hippo, Jul 10 2012

       Second item. Read "The Uplift" series by David Brin.
AusCan531, Jul 10 2012

       I can just see it now, as the mice become more intelligent, so their human slaves become gradually smaller, their noses and tails longer...
pocmloc, Jul 10 2012

       Also, once they work out how to escape, I worry how these new, intelligent ubermäuse will treat their dimwitted brethren in the outside world. I forsee a rise of mice facism and the enslavement of ordinary mice into a vast, servile rodent underclass.
hippo, Jul 10 2012

       //Directed evolution will inherently be more efficient than random.//   

       Funny how people get so upset at GM food, but not so much this.   

       I was so expecting to see Vernon's name at the end.   

       I think all we really need to do is introduce one to a motorcycle that moves when you say 'bpbpbpbpbpb.'   

       It's a good thing Hitler's experimentalist doctors didn't have more modern technology at their disposal.
RayfordSteele, Jul 10 2012

       // It's a good thing Hitler's experimentalist doctors didn't have more modern technology at their disposal.//   

       Does Godwin's Law apply in this case? In any event, all we're talking about here is creating a very intelligent form of a highly prolific and escape- prone mammal. I am pretty sure that nothing can possibly go wrong.   

       //Funny how people get so upset at GM food, but not so much this. // I would have put it the other way around, but yes. On the other hand, people are a lot less bothered by GM than they were. And, in any event, the new thing is Synthetic Biology, which is much more fun than GM and doesn't have the word "genetic" in it. Or the word "modified", for that matter.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2012

       I get kind of irked by (amongst many, many other things, as [bigs] once accurately noted) the people running around squawking about genetically modified food. Can't they see that we've been genetically modifying the fruits, vegetables, and animals we farm for thousands of years? How many of the people who think GM corn will bring about the apocalypse have ever eaten a Pink Lady apple, I wonder? Just because we're doing it in labs with microscopes and sequencers and other fancy science stuff doesn't make it any different than cross-pollenating crops or putting a large cow and a tasty cow in the same pen, does it?   

       Rant temporarily suspended pending nature of responses.
Alterother, Jul 10 2012

       I do rather laugh at the GM food issue myself. The more relevant issue to me seems to be the impending loss of biodiversity.
RayfordSteele, Jul 10 2012

       I'm excited by synthetic biology.
rcarty, Jul 10 2012

       //we've been genetically modifying the fruits, vegetables, and animals we farm for thousands of years//   

       Ah, but GM crops - they've got, like, DNA in them, you know? And DNA stands for, well, whatever it stands for, it's got no oxygen, it's nuclear and it's an acid, you know?   

       <off topic> Just back from a synthetic biology meeting, where there is a depressing lack of irresponsibility. With the rise of biohacking, we alleged professionals really ought to stop worrying and start making more stripey things.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2012

       <\off topic>
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2012

       I think the code of the bakery keeps that one open by default, lest it crash.
RayfordSteele, Jul 10 2012

       Oh no! [Max] has just closed the Halfbakery's only "off topic" tag!!!
hippo, Jul 10 2012

       </off topic>
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2012

       Hello? Can anyone hear me? Is it back on?
Alterother, Jul 10 2012

       Sorry, all I'm getting is static.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2012

       Oh, good, it's working again. For a minute, it felt like my role here had been severely diminished.
Alterother, Jul 10 2012

       Nnnnope. All I got was something about your newt roll being minced.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2012

       Good enough.
Alterother, Jul 10 2012

       //if Europe's population is against it, in a democracy, who has the right to foist it on them//   

       As much right as they have to foist their views on the rest of the world. Several African nations have refused to accept relief shipments of GM food from the U.S., largely because their European trading partners have threatened to stop doing business with them if they accept it based on the flimsy rationale that some of the food /might/ contaminate their agriculture, rendering it unfit for the nice wealthy Europeans who can afford to be choosy, collateral damage be damned.   

       Anyone who opposes genetically modified foods should be shown pictures of children suffering from kwashiorkor, and informed that GM food has the potential to practically eliminate the disease. If you're still aginit, fine, but you should know what the real cost of your position is.
ytk, Jul 12 2012

       It just occurred to me that, were this project successful, somebody, somewhere, would try to eat one. Who knows, smart mouse might even become a delicacy.   

       I can think of no greater psychological torture than being intelligent AND delicious.
ytk, Jul 12 2012

       ^You'd be safe.   

       (Double Apologies [ytk], I just couldn't resist)
AusCan531, Jul 12 2012

       Bite me, [AusCan]. No, really, go ahead! Right here on the arm—you'll see I'm quite tasty. Perhaps with a nice red wine reduction? It'd be the most useful contribution I've ever made around here, anyway…
ytk, Jul 12 2012

       Cephalopods, cetaceans, bears, pigs, most of the primates... they're all pretty intelligent. Why pick mice, for heaven's sake?
UnaBubba, Jul 12 2012

       Because they breed like rabbits.   


       I don't think it's ethical to make sentient such a puny creature. They will all end up neurotic little things.   

       Would you really be able to have a conversation with an animal that communicates in squeak-tones?
Cuit_au_Four, Jul 12 2012

       The phrase "screaming heeby-jeebies" comes to mind.
hippo, Jul 12 2012

       The phrase "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?" comes to mind.
spidermother, Jul 12 2012

       One interesting vector that could be looked into would be successfully identifying the genetic component of attraction and releasing into the wild a breed of mice who based their attraction of mates on intelligence.   

       If this attraction were genetically passed on to child-mice, in addition to the actual intelligence-encouraging genetics, you'd be starting a strain of mice who were both smarter, and also who actively sought out intelligence in future mates, creating a positive feedback look that should result in even faster progression.   

       Such attraction-based feedback-loops are likely responsible for many of the world's most interesting phenotypes and behaviours - including, but not limited to; songbirds, whales, peacocks (and associated peahens) and humans. A converse behavioural link might also be somewhere at the root of how dogs are both sexually attracted to almost anything (legs, sofas, Chihuahuas) and their unusual morphability and proclivity to respond to breeding programs.
zen_tom, Jul 12 2012

       Sounds like fun, but when all's said and done the answer is still forty two.   

       //Cephalopods, cetaceans, bears, pigs, most of the primates... they're all pretty intelligent. Why pick mice, for heaven's sake?//   

       Well, I did address this point, but I hid it by encoding it in the form of words in the original post. But briefly:   

       Cephalods: all well and good, but the water would run out between the bars of the cages. Do try and think harder.   

       Bears: large, slow-breeding, inedible, need woods.   

       Pigs: mean, smelly. On the plus side, edible.   

       Cetaceans: inconveniently large, inconveniently long generation time. On the plus side, though, lots of free whale meat.   

       Primates: mean, slow-breeding, expensive; and already too close to our own intelligence to be interesting.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 12 2012

       //the most useful contribution I've ever made//   

       Nonsense, [ytk]; I've just checked your profile page and found Prank Fonts. *That*'s the most useful contribution you've ever made. It brightened up a very bad day for me. I have added my bun. :)
pertinax, Jul 12 2012

       // Bears [] inedible// I believe there are quite a few people who will disagree with that.
MechE, Jul 12 2012

       I was assuming the project would be conducted in England. Apart from the shortage of bears, most of the good recipes for bear were lost some time back in the 1700s.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 12 2012

       That's because people discovered that there are things that taste much better than bear, such as horse, possum, or rancid suet.
Alterother, Jul 12 2012

       To be perfectly honest, [Max], I didn't bother reading past the first fifty paragraphs of your manifesto. I was surprised to find it was yours and not [Vernon]'s, when I looked for the author tag.   

       Anyway, someone has already done mice as the most intelligent species in the universe. I think it was a children's show?   

       If you want really fast breeding, go for squid or octopus... up to 100,000 offspring from a single pairing. They also possess chromatophoric signalling capability; problem-solving capabilities and are capable of deceit.
UnaBubba, Jul 12 2012

       The squid one has already been done quite well in a SF short story which name and author currently escape me. A good choice though [UB]
AusCan531, Jul 12 2012

       I think it was a Stephen Baxter novel, [AusCan]. Manifold? Multipoint? Something like that.
UnaBubba, Jul 12 2012

       Well remembered [UB]. It was "Sheena 5" by Stephen Baxter [link] which he later expanded into the Manifold series. The whole story is available to read in the link and is almost exactly what [MB] was proposing only with squid subsituted for mice.   

       Another advantage is that squid are more comfortable in zero gee than meeces.
AusCan531, Jul 13 2012

       Reed Malenfant?
UnaBubba, Jul 13 2012

       //Reed Malenfant?//   

       No, I'm pretty busy these days so I mostly just Reed Halfbakery.
AusCan531, Jul 13 2012

       I think that was the name of the lead character.
UnaBubba, Jul 13 2012

       Yes it was. A recurring character in some of Baxter's stories.
AusCan531, Jul 13 2012

       I read one of his... twee SciFi. Not too deep, so you can stand up and take a breath and forget you were drowning in drivel.
UnaBubba, Jul 13 2012

       late to the party I know.. but I'm feeling bored so I just had to ask   

       did you ever consider cheating a little rather than relying entirely on selective breeding?   

       a little gene splicing with PDE4B, FOXP2 & NR2B perhaps?   

       brain to body size ratio was said to be a good rule of thumb indicator for a species relative intelligence, & the number & complexity of brain folds too..   

       that gives you a couple of physical markers to aim for (if the premise is sound) as well as your intelligence tests - you could weigh them then extract the brain to count it's wrinkles & weigh it - which is much the same method Cobb uses to breed faster growing chickens with a larger breast meat to body / fat ratio, they kill young birds in those trials so they have to go back & breed the next generation from the best ones siblings that weren't in the trial of course.. but you'd have the luxury of waiting till they'd reproduced before killing your mice   

       a second hand dental x-ray machine (if you could lay your hands on one) might be a useful bit of kit for a project of this sort as well, you could use it to check on cranial size for breeding selection prior to the cull necessitated by any brain weight trials
Skewed, Jun 11 2016

       If you can engineer mice smart enough to kill cats, we will fund you ...
8th of 7, Jun 11 2016

       //a little gene splicing with PDE4B, FOXP2 & NR2B perhaps? //   

       That'd be cheating. And a slippery slope. You'd end up just scrapping the mouse genome, replacing it with a human genome, and ending up with humans. Lots and lots and lots of humans.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 11 2016

       If you can engineer humans smart enough to kill cats, we will fund you ...
8th of 7, Jun 11 2016

       // a slippery slope //   

       wear rubber soles & just brace yourself against the sides with them before you reach the bottom
Skewed, Jun 11 2016

       // You'd end up just scrapping the mouse genome, replacing it with a human genome //   


       I skimmed those articles rather hastily I'll admit & it is your field (certainly not mine.. after all, I'm just your average common or garden pleb)..   

       so I'll take your word for it..   

       I thought one (PDE4B?) only promoted production of an enzyme that regulated neural activity in some way (sort of overclocking without actually altering the architecture?) - I think one didn't even involve introduction of any foreign DNA, just doubling their own copy of the code (but I could have misread) - one was associated with language as well as better problem solving - one also reduced their risk aversion (they spent less time in dark corners & were less afraid of cats.. apparently) as well as improving their intelligence (as perceived by us.. well, the guys in the lab)   

       I didn't think any of them really altered the genome significantly to human but I'll try to find the articles again & read them more carefully.. see where I went wrong
Skewed, Jun 11 2016

       You may be right, and neurogenomics isn't really my field. But my general point was, if you're going to start serious genome editing, you'd get faster results by just doing it wholesale rather than by tweaking a handful of genes that we think might be important. And the logical extension of that is "well, we don't understand all these genes, but some of them must be important so let's just throw them all in".   

       If we want an interesting and unexpected result, we'd do better to select for the result and let evolution come up with an innovative way to get there. A lot of in-vitro evolution research is spoiled by people trying to design rather than select.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 11 2016

       // A lot of in-vitro evolution research is spoiled by people trying to design rather than select //   

       gotcha.. it's the random (if I can use that word) element of "how" the mouse genome goes about coding for intelligence (as determined by your selective breeding criteria for "intelligence") that you're after as much as anything.. & the differences in their perceptions (or point of view) & ours that might arise from that   

       I suppose that probably rules out the two physical criteria I suggested as well
Skewed, Jun 11 2016

       aside from any of that anecdotal evidence from pigeon fanciers, budgie breeders et al suggests you may only need decades rather than hundreds of years (to reach the intelligence of a five year old say.. at which point you'd probably have to stop as a result of ethical considerations anyway)   

       new fancy breeds are often created & fixed in less than a decade by these guys & they're only breeding with a few cages in a back room rather than doing it on an industrial scale as you propose   

       and with something as fast breeding & fecund as mice in the quantities suggested..   

       one element you seem to have missed from your calculations is litter size - with one child a birth you only have one chance for a useful mutation, with a litter of six you have six chances - add to that that a human with a useful mutation only produces a handful of children, a mouse in the lab with a useful mutation can be used to produce scores or hundreds (if female) or thousands (if male)   

       and if you select for faster development to breeding maturity, shorter gestation periods & larger litters as well as intelligence the whole thing should go even faster
Skewed, Jun 12 2016

       if you want to talk to it you're going to need to select for appropriate palate, tongue & vocal chord structure as well
Skewed, Jun 12 2016

       //breed a species // that // evolves quite dramatically during the lifetime of a single individual //   

       that's called cancer Ian.. you either end up with a lump of some sort somewhere or it's fatal.. either way any mutation in any cells won't express as a change in the organism they occur in (other than as a tumour), not unless they occur [very] early in foetal development perhaps   

       which makes it a bit hard to tell if it's a useful one or not   

       what you said.. it's a bit like injecting stem cells from a swan into an adult baboon & hoping it grows wings - not going to happen   

       but I assume you're just being funny there ;P
Skewed, Jun 12 2016

       // that's called cancer Ian.. you either end up with a lump of some sort somewhere or it's fatal.. either way any mutation in any cells won't express as a change in the organism they occur in (other than as a tumour), not unless they occur [very] early in foetal development perhaps //   

       Unless you, using GM (which I'm using here as magic, which is why this isn't an idea on its own), add a built-in retrovirus to the organism, allowing it to perform gene therapy on itself.
notexactly, Jul 18 2016

       //we could have another intelligent species to chat with in a few centuries//   

       "So... mouse. What's up?"   

       "Oh you know. Same old same old. Working on my doctorate, the wife's getting her engineering degree. Try to get a little running in the wheel when I get a chance."
doctorremulac3, Jul 18 2016

       //we could have another intelligent species to chat with in a few centuries//   

       "In a few centuries, there might be a truly intelligent biological life-form that will enjoy interacting with the silicon-based intelligences that run the planet and now keep selected specimens of biped primates as pets ..."
8th of 7, Jul 18 2016

       This idea proposes to evolve an intelligent species in only 500 years, rather than 100 million years - an improvement by an impressive factor of 200,000.   

       It seems reasonable to expect, therefore, that the newly evolved mice will be able to evolve an intelligent species of their own in a little under 22 hours, and the next species will appear approximately 400 milliseconds later.
Wrongfellow, Apr 21 2017

       // an improvement by an impressive factor of 200,000. //   

       That makes Moore's Law sound decidedly pedestrian...
8th of 7, Apr 21 2017

       "You want me to read all of this?..... it's long.... very long" Donald Trump
xenzag, Apr 21 2017

       He'll probably just evolve into something with far longer arms, but which is quite incapable of drinking coffee ...
8th of 7, Apr 21 2017

       Imagines a mouse with a little blob on the end of its tail. On closer examination that blob turns out to be perfectly formed human head calling out the words 'help me, help me'. The words are inaudible against the persistent squeaking of the busy mouse. (see last link)
xenzag, Apr 21 2017

       But how difficult is it going to be to force Jeremy "I'm channeling the spirit of Michael Foot" Corbyn into an unproven, experimental matter transporter ?   

       Aw, let's try it anyway, what harm can it do ?
8th of 7, Apr 21 2017

       Will this work? My gut instinct says it too linear.   

       //so let's just throw them all in// You're not. The dum mice with needed gene lines are being killed. I am imagining that it will take a dum mouse mated with the proto-proto-intelligent mouse for this to come to fruition.   

       Again nature sets up a self controlling system.   

       Gene transplanting and the more specific gene engineering might get around this but you almost have to have future premonition to work out all the gene interrelationships.
wjt, Apr 22 2017

       // future premonition //   

       Errr, what ? Like, in the future, you know you're going to have a premonition about something ?   

       There is already a word for having a premonition of the past. It's "Remembering".
8th of 7, Apr 22 2017

       If you want. Remembering the future premonition. Technically a 'future premonition' would be a prediction of the future at some future time.   

       Due to gene to gene to environment interrelationships, it's probably what is needed.
wjt, Apr 23 2017

       ? You've lost me..... I neither made, or intended to imply any Retard Trump connection.
xenzag, Apr 23 2017

       When ever an old idea of Max's pops up I go for the bun button and find that I'd already hit it when he first posted it.   

       Miss ya Max old buddy. You were a brilliant and creative guy. Wicked sense of humor too.
doctorremulac3, Apr 25 2022


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