It seems that many nutrition experiments [directed at human diet] are carried on laboratory mice. Is there any justification that nutrition that is good or bad for laboratory mice will also be same way applicable to humans ?

I wonder because mice and humans, although both being mammals, are separated probably by tens millions years of separate evolution. By the "mammals" logic, dolphins, cows, wolves, and goats, all being mammals, shall have same diet as mice ?

Sometimes one man's food is another man's poison (lactose differences for example, due to genetic differences). That's man to man, same species. On what is "transfer of nutritional information" from species to species based ?

2) Was it ever established, or the opposite, that all humans have same best diet. Other than known lactose metabolism difference.

  • $\begingroup$ This is an important question I think. The commonality of genes among eukaryotes does not necessarily mean they share the same metabolism etc. $\endgroup$
    – Poshpaws
    Sep 20, 2012 at 7:06

3 Answers 3


Whether using quantitative models, or "animal models", I think this is a useful quote to keep in mind:

A model is a lie that helps you see the truth.

-- Howard Skipper

As for evidence that using mice models for human nutrition is justified -- I believe there has been a good deal of research that has provided useful insight on the influence of genetics on the susceptibility to diabetes in humans using mouse models, so ... yes?


My impression is that the use of mice as human models for anything is primarily the result of historical precedent. A lot of work has been done to breed different lines of mice for particular purposes, and a lot of related methodology has therefore been established. Similarly, a lot of comparative genetic/genomic work has been done to characterize similarities between the mouse and human genomes. Developing similar methods and resources for another species could potentially require a huge investment of time and resources.

Additional reasons are purely technical and practical. Non-human primates are demonstrably more closely related to humans than mice, but breeding, storing, and working with these animals is a much more complicated issue.

And, as @SteveLianoglou mentions, any model has to be taken with a healthy level of skepticism. I prefer the quote from G.E.P. Box:

Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.

No model of human nutrition is going to be perfect, whether it was modeled in mice, primates, or even other humans (as you suggested). This does not mean, however, that we cannot gain insight from the models just because they are not perfect.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the mention of practical reasons. Also, another extremely important point is that mice are pretty much the only mammal where you have the availability of an enormous amount of transgenic lines, which allow to dissect the system much more in detail. As much as I would like to work on transgenic wolves we are not quite there yet! :P $\endgroup$
    – nico
    Sep 20, 2012 at 6:57

Human life span is too long and not suitable for such studies, so mice are used pretty much because their life span is much shorter and because they're already used for pretty much everything.

Mice and men as mammals have the same heritage and a metabolism which is very, very similar, almost identical - compared to the metabolism of insects, for example.

However, the millions of years of separate evolution made us the most capable omnivores on the planet, who learned to cook, became monogamous, evolved intelligence and grand-paternal care etc. We even evolved to drink milk as adults and eat gluten. So you can't possibly come up with conclusions about such complex species by looking at a simple creature that is an evolutionary dead end.

If you're using mice for your study, you can find out how something affects a mammalian species in general, e.g. radiation, but not how nutrition affects humans - because human nutrition is unique. The scientists basically don't know much about nutrition to begin with, and I suppose they're trying to figure out the basics for now, some general rules which apply to all mammals, and that's why they're using mice. A less complex organism.

But you'll get nowhere if you're researching traits unique to the human race by looking at another species which doesn't have those traits.


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