Have you ever found yourself thinking, "Mice are pretty great, but wouldn't it be awesome if they were more pretentious?" That was apparently the thinking behind this 2008 experiment that tried to turn regular mice into wine snobs.
The researchers at Japan's Hiroshima University began with a simple enough goal - to teach mice to tell the difference between basic kinds of wine. This, as it turns out, wasn't that hard:
We examined performance of mice in discrimination of liquor odors by Y-maze behavioral assays. Thirsty mice were initially trained to choose the odor of a red wine in the Y-maze. After successful training (>70% concordance for each trained mouse), the individual mice were able to discriminate the learned red wine from other liquors, including white wine, rosé wine, sake, and plum liqueur.
But that's not all that impressive, is it? Any rube can tell the difference between white and red win. The researchers tried to take their work further by teaching the mice to distinguish different brands of red wine, but they soon learned they were tampering in God's domain...
However, when the mice were tested to distinguish fine differences between 2 brands of red wine, their performance significantly varied among the individual trained mice. Among 10 mice tested, 2 mice were able to discriminate between the red wines (>75% concordance) whereas 6 mice failed to distinguish between them (50-67% concordance, where chance could be assumed to be 50%).
Although, as the researchers speculate, it might just be the mice liked what they liked, and no amount of rewards or conditioning could persuade them to choose a different wine:
More importantly, 2 other mice exhibited lower than 30% concordance, indicating that they were more attracted to the nonrewarded red wine compared with the learned one. This result suggested that the individual mice directed attention to different subsets of volatile components emanating from the rewarded red wine, when they were trained to choose the liquor odor in the Y-maze.
So what's the takeaway from all this? The researchers point out they "observed that the olfactory attention of mice could be modified through their learning experiences", but I don't think that's the really important thing. I'm just glad to know that the next time I'm in a restaurant, it won't just be the waiter judging me for my wine selection - the mice will be at it as well. I may need to start going to better restaurants, but that's beside the point...
Via NCBI ROFL.