Science relies on experimentation, and experimentation relies on mice. In America alone, we use tens of millions of the things a year, and on university campuses where research is taken seriously you can find entire buildings dedicated to storing them. Seriously. There are buildings full of mice out there. It’s freaky.
Many among those ranks will be regular, garden-variety rodents. But some of them are special mice–tiny things, genetically tweaked to accommodate one experiment or another, that can cost labs as much as $100,000 a head. It’s these unusual mice–and the even more unusual ones that will undoubtedly follow–that Johanna Schmeer had in mind when she created “Mousetraps No. 3, 14 and 18.” They’re not your average mousetraps, but then again, they’re not designed to catch your average mice, either.
One of the traps, a circular tube, is designed for the “waltzing mouse”–the only one of the three that can actually be found in nature. Because of an abnormality in the inner ear, the mouse is perpetually out of balance and can only run in circles–the trap gives him just such a path, finishing up top with a dead end. “Due to the genetic defect,” Schmeer explains, “the mouse will not be able to escape by walking backwards or turning around.”
The other two traps are targeted toward even more bizarre variations. The one intended for brain-implant-bearing “cyborg mice” is pretty straightforward: It’s a big magnet. The other is for a variant called the “birdsong mouse” that is altered to sing just like–you guessed it–a bird. The trap, which looks like an Apple Store take on an old-timey gramophone speaker, lures the mouse in with recorded birdsong of its own.
More than catching mice, the project is actually about exploring the implications of genetic engineering in the near future. The fanciful traps, the German designer explains, were designed as “tools for communication, not functional products.”
“As a designer, I don’t want to impose my views about subjects such as the genetic modification of animals upon people,” she says. “I rather aim to create objects that lead to people discussing and thinking about these topics, and forming their own opinions.” In my view, when we start engineering mice that are smart enough to evade capture by a good old-fashioned spring-loaded mechanical bar and a block of cheese, then we should start worrying.