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Genetically modified or ‘transgenic’ mice are a routine experimental tool in biomedical research, commonly produced by injecting DNA into one-cell embryos. These animals were independently invented in 1980 by multiple university groups in the United States and Europe that combined expertise in mouse developmental biology and recombinant DNA techniques, or ‘genetic engineering’. In this article, I examine this multiple invention and argue that research strategies, experimental practices, and funding arrangements that led to transgenic mice are best described as tinkering. These creative and speculative endeavors, combined with partial knowledge of what was happening in competing laboratories, created a fruitful atmosphere for research which led to the multiple invention. The tinkering was, however, underpinned by infrastructures that were crucial to success, some long established, such as mouse supply or embryological tools, and some emerging, such as the informal exchange of isolated genes.
Here, we investigate the ways in which a group of scientists in Edinburgh worked across mice and sheep during the last quarter of the twentieth century. With this local episode, we show the utility of an interspecies perspective to investigate recent historical transformations in the life sciences.
We are delighted to feature this guest blog on mice models in animal research from Nicole C. Nelson.