Scientists program lab mice into killing machines using lasers

They may be cute, and they may be tiny, but a recent study shows mice to have a kill switch that can be flipped on at the flash of a laser.

In a report published by the Cell journal on Thursday, a team of scientists found that mice transformed from mild-mannered animals into predators once encountered with a laser light that activates two sets of neurons in the animals's amygdala.

"We'd turn the laser on and they'd jump on an object, hold it with their paws and intensively bite it as if they were trying to capture and kill it," said Ivan de Araujo, the team's lead investigator.

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Once activated, the neurons caused the mice to attack live prey such as crickets, and even inanimate objects such as bottle caps and plastic insect-like toys.

"The animals become very efficient in hunting," said De Aruajo. "They pursue the prey faster and they are more capable of capturing and killing it."

However, the mice reserve their newfound aggression for prey, never attacking each other in the experiments.

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The investigation into the link between various brain regions in mice and their urge to hunt was only part of a larger project delving into the feeding behavior in animals and the underlying neural mechanism and evolutionary biology of such.

Researchers have also performed similar experiments on other species whose survival also once depended on hunting abilities such as rats, humans, and other species.