The laboratory rat is a descendant of the Norway rat, and it is the first mammal that was domesticated for research purposes. Despite its name, the Norway rat originated in Asia, and it is a species that is known for its adaptability. It has followed us all over the world – wherever we went, the rats came with us, and are now present in almost all the environments on Earth.
However, despite their bad reputation around the world, Norway rats make excellent laboratory rats. In fact, the lab rat is almost the archetypal model organism. It is used in a wide variety of fields for experiments including toxicology, physiology and neuroscience. They account for 13.9% of all animals used for testing in Europe, being outdone by mice which are used in about 60.9% of experiments involving animals.
The Norway rat was first domesticated 160 years ago, and today, these rats are so popular as model organisms because they are hardy, they adapt very well to captivity, they are available everywhere, they are very inexpensive to breed and they have a short reproductive cycle.
However, laboratory rats have become their own breed which is different from the Norway rats that they descend from. In the middle of the 20th century, some researchers started to wonder if the laboratory rat is too degenerate compared to its wild cousins, and whether it still has any value as a study model.
Most researchers disagree with this view, but they have recognized that they should be aware of the effects of advanced domestication. As such, new research is being undertaken to understand these effects, and although wild Norway rat colonies are rarely studied in a laboratory setting, this might change soon in order to refresh genetic lines and experiment with the possibility of creating new strains. Researchers are also very interested in finding the differences between laboratory and wild Norway rats.
What makes Norway rats good laboratory animals makes them terrible pests. Once you have a couple of rats in your home, they will start reproducing quickly, and before you know it, their numbers will be overwhelming. This is why it’s important to get rid of an infestation as soon as you see the first signs. Contact us today if you think you have a rat infestation, and we will send someone over who can help determine its severity and then eliminate the rats from your property.