As part of an initiative to develop a novel system for studying the behaviour of mice in their home-cage environment 24/7, scientists at MRC Harwell have worked with Actual Analytics in Edinburgh to develop the Home Cage Analysis system (HCA). Minimally invasive, the system only requires the insertion of a microchip. The cage is then placed in the HCA System, which can track the movements of three individual mice without removing them from their social group.
This project provides an opportunity to learn more about how mice behave, particularly in the night when they’re most active, and monitor them over much longer periods of time (months and years). The system also makes it possible to observe social interactions in more detail than ever before while the mice are going about their daily business, without any human intervention.
Collecting data 24/7 is highly beneficial, but analysing it all manually would be extremely time-consuming. The aim is to eventually have new computer learning algorithms doing the hard work, but for these algorithms to 'learn' the diﬀerent mouse behaviours they first need to be 'taught'. Rodent Little Brother: Secret Lives of Mice, the new citizen science project hosted by Zooniverse, is crucial to this teaching process.
By labelling six-second video clips of mice in their home-cages, members of the public will help teach the algorithm examples of behaviours like eating, drinking and sleeping. Ultimately, this will help advance understanding of how genes cause disease and aid the future development of new therapies and treatment, as well as improving mouse welfare.