The life of a lab rat seemed bleak enough, but it’s only set to get tougher with the invention of a robotic rodent whose sole purpose is to harass its living counterpart.
Rats are regularly used to test drugs that tackle mental conditions, including depression. This means that scientists need a ready supply of depressed rats at their disposal in order to test drugs and see how well medication can alleviate their symptoms. The robo rat, or WR-3, is seemingly more than up to the task with its various creepy abilities, which include stalking, constant physical attacks on its victim, and attacks that are triggered whenever the live rat moves.
Bred and kept alive simply to serve as walking experiments for medical research – great for us, not so great for them – you might think a lab rat’s existence is drab enough without the introduction of a mechanical bully, but scientists are hoping that the robo rat will shed some light on what triggers mental disorders.
Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that if a rat is constantly harassed by a robot when it is young and vulnerable, and then intermittently terrorised in adulthood then this is likely to make it very depressed.
It’s possible to make a rat depressed by other means – forced swimming for long periods, constant running – but these methods aren’t usually what induce depression in humans so the researchers wanted the rats to be gloomy based on the response to certain behaviours.
Quite what this means for medical research is hard to gauge – the researchers claim that the less a rat moves the more depressed it is. Of course, it could just be terrified of the strange metal thing that keeps bashing into it. But here’s hoping some significant findings come out of all of this, otherwise we’re left with a horde of traumatised rats and an army of violent robotic rodents, and little to show for it.