The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK


May 28, 2013

Of mice and men

Editor’s note: This column was first published Aug. 1, 2008.

For years I have wondered. Now I know.

Preliminary studies on mice performed by a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, have found there may just be a gene that causes laziness.

Finally I can pinpoint the reason I am as I am.

Given the choice of doing some useful work around the house or stretching out on the couch or in the recliner, TV remote in hand, and I’ll head for the couch every time. I always just thought of myself as ambition-challenged. Now I know I’m a victim of my genetics. The TV remote, by the way, is the third greatest invention of all time, ranking just behind the polio vaccine and pizza.

Thus, rather than blaming me every time I whined about shoveling the snow off the driveway or cleaning up my room, my parents should have accepted much of the responsibility for my tendency toward sloth. Their genes, after all, were my genes.

The UNC-Charlotte team, headed by kinesiologist J. Timothy Lightfoot, bred two strains of mice, active and inactive. They then crossbred two generations of the active and inactive mice, winding up with 310 mixed offspring.

Each mouse, at the age of about nine weeks, was placed in an individual cage and given an exercise wheel. For three weeks, the scientists measured how long and how fast the animals ran, then genotyped each mouse at the end of the study.

The more ambitious mice were found to put in between five and eight miles a day, versus 0.3 miles per day for inactive mice. For a mouse, five to eight miles is like a man running 40 to 50 miles a day, while the 0.3 miles is, for a man, the equivalent of two trips from the couch to the refrigerator and three to the bathroom.

The more sedentary mice seemed by far the most ingenious. The active mice would keep their little exercise wheels running all night, while the sedentary ones would come up with some brilliant alternative uses for the devices. One used the wheel as a toilet, while another climbed on top of her wheel to get a better look at her surroundings.

One even gathered up wood shavings from the bottom of the cage, packed them around the wheel and turned it into a bed. That’s a rodent after my own heart.

Speaking of lazy mice, another study has discovered a drug that could deliver some of the benefits of exercise without ever having to get off the couch.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., gave the drug to sedentary mice for four weeks. They were found to have burned more calories and had less fat than untreated mice. And, when tested on a treadmill, they ran 44 percent farther and 23 percent longer than untreated mice.

Imagine being able to pop a pill and get the benefits of, say, a five-mile run, without ever getting off your butt. It’s not on the market yet, but I wonder if I can get on a waiting list?

It’s not that I won’t do anything around the house. I will, I just would rather be doing something else, preferably something involving drifting in and out of sleep while trying to balance a bowl of popcorn on my belly and watching TV between my feet.

And I know I should exercise, I really do. And I do, some — just not as much as I should. So I start feeling guilty about it, which only angers me and spurs me into action. I get up from the couch, stretch to warm up, march straight out of the living room ... and come back doing one-arm curls with a big bowl of ice cream.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get busy. Oh, this? It’s a pile of wood shavings. Why?

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at

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