I really enjoyed Evelyn’s chalk talk on the ultrasonic vocalizations of mice because it presented a fascinating solution to a question I never would have thought to ask. Her overarching question is whether or not mice are aware of their own vocalizations. Before hearing her talk, I never would have considered the fact that mice might not be aware of their own vocalizations or that this ability that humans have to distinguish between self-generated and foreign sounds is actually pretty special. Furthermore, once this interesting question was posed, a very creative way to test it was generated. I admire the way her lab came up with a unique solution to a unique question.
In a nut shell, the lab tests whether mice can distinguish between self-generated and other noises by giving them helium and seeing how/if they react to the raised pitch of their voices. If they adjust their vocalizations to a lower pitch or lower the volume of their vocalizations, it could indicate that they can distinguish which sounds they are producing and that they can discern that they sound different than usual and adjust accordingly.
However, even more interesting than the idea of giving mice helium to see if they notice when their voice changes is the important implications that it has for humans. I was also impressed by this aspect of the presentation because while this research seems interesting and relevant to the study of neuroscience in mice, it is not immediately clear how it applies to humans. Evelyn explained that this research can be applied to the study of schizophrenia, as people with schizophrenia often have difficulty distinguishing between self-generated and other sounds. Thus, research on the ultrasonic vocalizations of mice can be used to better understand a disorder that affects hundreds of thousands of people and is not currently well understood. That’s one of the most amazing things about science and research that I’ve discovered this summer: it always has broader implications that can make our world a better place.
So thanks Evelyn for the fascinating talk! I can’t wait to learn what you discover!