Vikki Academy | Of Mice and Men and the Biological Roots of Social Behavior

Of mice and men and the biological roots of social behavior

Dr. Tali Kimchi is the Principal Investigator in her lab. Her main interest is to elucidate the neuronal mechanisms that govern reproductive behavioral patterns and social interactions.

The lab’s research activities combine diverse tools including wide range of advance animal behavior methodologies, in vivoviral gene manipulation and neuronal tracing, neurbiochemical tools and neuronal imaging technologies.


Have you ever watched reality TV and felt you were seeing an experiment on humans?


Behavioral experiments on animals suggest that Big Brother-type shows do not just involve personality clashes, but essential biological processes.


Weizmann Institute of Science researchers developed a special system: The mice live in a Big Brother house in which their lives are recorded at all times.


It’s not so easy to research mouse behavior. They look alike and move fast; moreover, a mouse does not answer to a name or discuss its feelings.


The system developed in Dr. Tali Kimchi’s lab combined video footage with tiny ID chips – so no matter how many interactions a mouse has or how fast it runs, the scientists can follow the actions of every one, at all times.


The experiment was conducted in a natural environment so the mice could move freely over a fairly large area for several days and nights, without human interference.


The system could distinguish between two types of mice: normal ones, and some that had behaviors associated with autism.


In interactions between pairs, the system could identify different behavioral patterns – these revealed communication problems with the autistic-like mice.


But that was not all: In the normal mice society there were power struggles for dominance.


The first day of the experiment, there was a lot of fighting and chasing, but within 24 hours a leader emerged, and the social structure remained stable for the remaining days.


This hierarchy was only disturbed when females were let in. The fight for top he-mouse was renewed.


But soon enough the dominant mouse took back his crown and status in the group.


In their next experiment, the scientists are checking how genetic and molecular mechanisms contribute to establishing and maintaining a group’s social hierarchy, as well as what we can learn from this about our own social behavior.

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