Even if you’re a clean freak, it’s hard to escape a decade of discoveries that some of the microbes naturally residing in your body—your microbiome—help keep you healthy. Researchers aware of this reality have now shown that transplanting gut bacteria from wild mice into “clean” lab mice has made those rodents less likely to die from the flu or develop cancer. The findings could usher in lab mice equipped with different kinds of bacteria to reflect real-world conditions.
“We might be able to make a better set of laboratory mouse models … [that] would be more predictive of human disease,” says John Wherry, an immunologist at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study.
Today’s lab mice are raised in sterile conditions, often free of any infections. This makes it easier to get reproducible results. “It’s unquestionable that major medical advances have been discovered in hyper-hygienic mice,” says David Masopust, an immunologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis who, with fellow immunologist Stephen Jameson, recently began exploring the possible advantages of “dirty” lab mice. Concerned that the immune systems of clean mice might not be good proxies for the human immune system—no human is brought up in such clean conditions and fed such clean food—they housed lab mice with mice from a pet store. The lab mice that survived exposure to the bacteria and viruses of the pet store rodents had stronger immune systems, suggesting to Masopust and Jameson that such dirty mice might be better for testing the safety of vaccines and new drugs.
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