Background on the History of the Mouse

National Human Genome Research Institute

National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Background on the History of the Mouse

December 2002

Although the origin of the mouse and human has been the subject of recent debate, it is thought that the mouse lineage diverged from the human somewhere around 75 million years ago.

The origin of the mouse as the principal model system for biomedical research dates back to the start of human civilization. Humans have been recording observations regarding coat-color mutations for millennia, including ancient Chinese references to albino, yellow and waltzing mice.

By the 1700s, many varieties of mice were domesticated as pets in China and Japan, and Europeans imported favorites and bred them to local mice. This breeding led to the creation of progenitors of modern laboratory mice as hybrids among M. m. domesticus, M. m. musculus and other subspecies.

In Victorian England, "fancy" mice were prized and traded, and a National Mouse Club was founded in 1895.

In 1900, with the rediscovery of Mendel's laws of inheritance, it was quickly recognized that the discontinuous variation of fancy mice was analogous to that of Mendel's peas, and mice were used to test the new theories of inheritance. Mating programs were established to create inbred strains that resulted in many of the modern, well-known strains used in medical research.

Haldane's report in 1915 led to genetic mapping in the mouse, and the genetic map grew slowly over the next 50 years. By the early 1980s, the genome began to fill out, with chromosome 7 mapping 45 loci.

The greatest breakthrough in the mapping of the mouse was the development of recombinant DNA technology and the advent of DNA-sequence based polymorphisms. These techniques readily revealed polymorphisms between laboratory strains.

When the Human Genome Project was launched in 1990, it included the mouse as one of its five central model organisms and targeted the creation of genetic, physical and sequence maps of the mouse genome. Genetic and physical maps provided thousands of anchor points that could be used to tie clones or DNA sequences to specific locations in the mouse genome.

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Last Reviewed: May 23, 2012