Scientists Use Lasers To Turn Timid Mice Into Vicious Walking Dead Type Zombies: The Question Is Why? [Opinion]
It’s long been a million dollar question as to why the zombies in The Walking Dead became mindless flesh-eating monsters in the first place, but a gang of boffins and their dubious experiments may have inadvertently provided us with the answer.
Lab mice who have had their brains fired with lasers have apparently turned from timid, peaceful, and social-like creatures, to ferocious and crazed rodents who just want to hunt, capture, and kill. Sound familiar?
Being held captive in a sterile and alien environment and having the old grey matter blasted with beams will no doubt make even the most peaceful soul a little irritable, but the mice in question have delighted the scientists in their extreme transformation, which is not unlike what happens to a person after they’ve been bitten by a zombie in The Walking Dead.
Here’s the science part. The amygdala is a small region of the brain which has a lot to do with our memories and emotions. You know, emotions like motivation and fear.
Scientists have discovered by using optogenetics, the process whereby specific neurons are stimulated with light, such as laser beams, they can stimulate and manipulate the amygdala. Which is bad news if you’re a lab rat, or perhaps a human being wondering where on earth all this slightly sinister experimentation is heading.
By controlling the amygdala, the boffins have found they can turn even the most timid of mice into an aggressive, steroid-crazed meat-head, hell-bent on inflicting maximum damage, and lots of it.
As soon as the laser is turned off, the mouse returns to its natural state, if slightly frazzled and confused, but once it is blasted with the beams again, all hell breaks loose as beast mode is triggered and the mouse runs around the place with an “if it moves kill it” psychology.
Scientists have observed the laser controlled rodents rampantly biting moving toys, live insects and inanimate objects such as bottle caps and wooden sticks, as they quite literally destroy anything and everything in their path.
Lead investigator Ivan de Araujo, who was the co-author of a paper on the study which was published earlier this week in Cell explained, “We’d turn the laser on and they’d jump on an object, hold it with their paws and intensley bite it as if they were trying to capture and kill it.”
The associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University has compared the transformed mice to the walkers in The Walking Dead.
“The system is not just generalized aggression. It seems to be related to the animal’s interest in obtaining food.”
During the course of the experiments, it was discovered that different neurons in the amygdala could be targeted to manipulate different behaviors. One set governed pursuit and the other could control the killing instinct of the mice. For example, if the neurons were blasted in a certain way, the mice would pursue their prey but not kill it.
Either way, you cut it. The nature of the beast is complete control.
The experiments were initiated after de Araujo became fascinated with the brain areas which govern feeding and hunting. The brains of the rodents were probed and prodded until researchers hit the bullseye and stumbled upon the central regain of the amygdala.
Leading de Araujo to enthuse, “This area was perfectly compatible with an activation system that drives the motor behavior associated with hunting.”
And hey presto. The dark alchemy of how to turn an intelligent creature into a mindless zombie has pretty much been discovered.
If curiosity killed the cat, then the men in white coats not only brought it back but pumped it full of juice, reanimated it, and just perhaps, will one day be responsible for the sort of zombie apocalypse featured in The Walking Dead.
[Featured Image by unoL/ShutterstockScitn]