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New Study Offers the Most Comprehensive Evaluation of Mice Behaviour in Space

Today, new research offering the most comprehensive evaluation of the behaviour of mice in space was published in Scientific Reports 

April Ronca from NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, was in charge of the new study used NASA’s Rodent Habitat (RH), a specially designed caged enclosure that took mice to space. All the mice in the experiment were female, and either 16 or 32 weeks old, when they were launched into space. The mice rode on an uncrewed SpaceX Dragon capsule and arrived at the ISS in four days. They spent between 17 and 37 days in space, which would be a relatively brief stay for a human, but a long-duration mission for mice.

Since the study was focused on analyzing the behaviour of mice in space, the researchers set up several cameras to film the mice inside the RH. A duplicate experiment was performed on a control group on Earth.

All 20 mice survived their time in space and appeared to be in good health after coming back to Earth. Their body weights were similar to those of the mice in the control group. For the most part, the mice showed remarkable adaptability. The mice who flew to space remained normal in their behaviours, such as eating, grooming, and cuddling with other mice. They even followed a regular circadian sleep pattern. 

However, one interesting finding was that the younger mice were more physically active compared to the ones who stayed on Earth. About one week to 10 days into the experiment, the younger mice, unlike their older counterparts, started to circle the cage in what the researchers called “race-tracking” behaviour. The researchers found that when one lone mouse started it, a coordinated group activity followed.

The researchers aren’t entirely sure why the young mice were behaving that way. The authors said it might be an abnormal repetitive behaviour (ARBs) which is a response to dull, cramped conditions. They wrote that ARBs are “generally thought to reflect impaired welfare as they tend to appear in barren or restricted housing conditions spontaneously.” 

The behaviour could also be a stress response to microgravity and a way to stimulate their disrupted sense of balance.

Although more research is needed, they say such reaction is not entirely outside the realm of human behaviour.