Here’s how mice recognise one another

November 14th, 2007 - 8:20 am ICT by admin  
“For many years scientists assumed that a particular set of genes, called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), helped animals to identify individuals within their own species through their scent. Each individual has a different MHC code, just like every human has a different fingerprint. It influences the body’s odour and it was assumed that animals that are sensitive to scents would use these different odours to recognise each other,” said Professor Jane Hurst, Director of the Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution research group.

“We found, however, that whilst female wild mice do indeed use scent to identify individual males, MHC does not play a part. For example it is clear that we all have different fingerprints, but it certainly isn’t how we recognise individuals in everyday life. Equally, while MHC odours differ between individual mice, this isn’t the way they recognise one another,” he added.

During the study, the researchers observed how female mice identify potential mates.

Female mice distinguish between dominant and weaker males, by how fresh a male scent-mark is. A dominant male is able to scent-mark a territory after excluding its other male competitors, allowing it to leave a more recent scent-mark than any of its competitors.

The researchers found that females could not identify which male left the fresh territory scents and which left the older scents when faced with two males with different MHC types, indicating that MHC differences were not sufficient for individual recognition as previously thought.

They instead found that a special set of proteins in the urine of mice allows females to recognize which individual male is dominant.

“These major urinary proteins (MUPs) act like a ‘chemical barcode’ of individual identity. Each individual has a slightly different set of proteins, allowing each animal to be easily recognised. Our results demonstrate that this protein ‘barcode’ allows females to identify individual males accurately, and thus recognise dominant males that are likely to be good sires for their offspring,” Professor Hurst said.

The research has been published in the journal Current Biology. (ANI)

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