Friday, August 17, 2007

Science: mice get angry because of burning fossil fuels

Peter Mobaerts will argue in Science that nasal cavities of mice are connected with special olfactory neurons that detect CO2 just 0.02% above the normal. Unless the mice will adapt, they will become more irritated, more aggressive, and less fertile.

Figure 1: An angry mouse

It is not clear to me whether the author means 0.02% of the actual volume of CO2 - which would be nonsensical because it is far below any kind of seasonal fluctuation and spatial variation you routinely encounter - or whether the percentage is counted from the overall volume of the atmosphere i.e. whether we talk about a 200 ppm change which could be nominally sensible.

Still, it is not explained what is "normal" in the phrase "above the normal". Is it 180 ppm or 280 ppm or 380 ppm? There is no "normal" concentration of CO2 (except in religious writings about Gaia). Be sure that mice have spent millions of years in the first two concentrations I have listed and decades in the third. If the researchers had actually measured a reaction of mice, wouldn't they know the absolute concentration at which the neurons get active? These things may be answered by the actual paper when it's out. Or not.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, I won a municipal literary contest with my short novel "A Powerless Robber" about my encounter with a mouse when I was home alone. ;-) Because the office concentrations of CO2 are between 600 and 800 ppm and this is where my experience with mice mostly comes from, I guess that mice will do just fine.

Alexander Ač is working on a similar project, namely how global warming influences sexual intercourse of beetles in the context of mountain meadows biosystems. If you want to earn some grants, here are several additional proposals for projects:

• Is global warming making champagne less tasty?
• Do dogs demand more expensive dog food when the concentration of CO2 increases?
• Do fat people become even more fat if they eat while the carbon dioxide concentrations are elevated?
• How does global temperature increase the death rate of cancer and transmission rates for HIV?

Even without any thinking, scientific consensus makes it clear that the answers are Yes, Yes, Yes, Terribly much. ;-) The only task is to write the papers.

See Wired. Thanks to Marc Morano.