Can Singing Mice Help People Communicate?

Imagine if mice could talk. Fortunately for us, they can't. However, there is a certain species of mouse that can communicate through squeaks! The gene that makes them squeak is also in humans and can help in speech disorder research.

Imagine if mice, those furry little bandits that often invade our homes and eat our food, could talk. Treatment would sure be much more difficult! Fortunately for us, they can't speak. However, there is a certain species of mouse that can communicate with each other through their voices - they communicate by singing!

Known as singing mice, Scotinomys teguina make rapid high pitched squeaks to establish dominance and attract mates. Researcher Steven Phelps at the University of Texas at Austin is identifying the genes that control this behavior in the mouse. One gene in particular (called FOXP2) is shared by both the singing mice and humans.

The FOXP2 gene has been linked in humans to speech disorders. These speech disorders range from difficulty understanding grammar to the inability speak a clear sentence. Phelps is using supercomputers at the university to map out the genetic sequence of the FOXP2 gene in order to understand how that gene reacts with other genes to cause these speech disorders. Because the FOXP2 gene of the singing mouse closely resembles the same gene in humans, it is hoped that by understanding this gene new therapies and treatments will be developed to help people with communication disorders.

A talking mouse might be a stretch, and most people would be uncomfortable hearing a lullaby from a singing mouse, but if that singing mouse could help to cure speech disorders then maybe it is time to give the little fur balls a second chance.