Want to know what mice in labs are saying? Try DeepSqueak.
A breakthrough app for ultrasonic squeak analysis.
- Mice have a vocabulary of about 20 different phrases.
- A clever new neural-network-based application reveals what mice used in research say.
- Spoiler: The conversation changes when a female shows up
Rodents are chatty little creatures, and even if mice aren't really hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings, as they're portrayed to be in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, they do seem to speak in their own very high-pitched way. They have what University of Washington researcher Kevin Coffey characterizes as "a rich repertoire of calls" — around 20 of them.
But what could they be saying?
On Jan. 4, Coffey and his colleague, Russell Marx, published a study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology that delves into this mystery. Through a new software application they've developed called "DeepSqueak," the duo has made several insights.
DeepSqueak squeaks, visualized
(UW Medicine/Big Think)
Mouse vocalizations are largely in the high-frequency, ultrasonic range — much higher, around 100 kHz, than we can hear — and automated analysis tools until now have fallen short. Noise confuses those programs, they're held back by static algorithms, and they're slow. DeepSqueak, however, turns the problem on its head by treating the audio challenge as a visual one. In it, machine hearing works together with "deep" artificial neural networks to learn over time, to get better and better at differentiating squeaks. Hence the "deep" in DeepSqueak.
DeepSqueak captures audio recordings of 100 kHz-range mouse vocalizations, converts them first into sonograms, and then runs those images through recognition algorithms not dissimilar to the type used by autonomous vehicles for identifying objects. "DeepSqueak uses biomimetic algorithms that learn to isolate vocalizations by being given labeled examples of vocalizations and noise," explained Marx in a press release. Essentially, DeepSqueak learns the difference between deliberate mouse utterances and extraneous noises, and then discerns patterns to derive the rodent's meaning.
The application looks to offer a "convenient, affordable and widely available" method of analyzing mouse vocalizations when rodents are being used as test subjects in studies of, for example, addiction in humans, according to UW's John Neumaier, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. And indeed, says Coffey, "With drugs of abuse, you see both positive and negative calls."
So what are mice saying?
Cloud of mouse vocalization shapes
So far, a few types of "conversations" have been identified. For example, when two male mice are in contact, they squeak the same calls over and over.
Interestingly, should a female stop by, the vocalizations increase in complexity. While it could be they're just trying to sound smart, the fact that this change of sounds is most pronounced when a male smells, but doesn't see, a female suggests that the noises may have to do with courtship.
DeepSqueak has also identified vocal sounds that express happiness when mice are expecting a reward, such as sugar, or during play with other mice.
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
An extinction events expert sounds a dire warning.
- The supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park could cause an "ultra-catastrophe," warns an extinction events writer.
- The full eruption of the volcano last happened 640,000 years ago.
- The blast could kill billions and make United States uninhabitable.
Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.
I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.
A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.
- A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
- The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
- The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Mathematicians studied 100 billion tweets to help computer algorithms better understand our colloquial digital communication.