MICE, a program to track and monitor animals in animal facilities
© Boulukos and Pognonec; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2001
Received: 20 February 2001
Accepted: 8 March 2001
Published: 8 March 2001
A growing number of laboratories are using the mouse as a model system in developmental biology as well as in molecular biology. Surprisingly, most of these laboratories do not have reliable computerized systems to track these animals, and the few commercial solutions available are expensive. We thus developed MICE (Mouse Information and Classification Entity), a program aimed at facilitating the monitoring of animals in animal facilities.
This program consists of a virtual facility in which scientists can perform all the tasks done in the real world (i.e., receiving animals, breeding them, preparing cage labels, etc.). Recording of each animal (birth date, cage number, ID number, tail analysis number, parents, genetic status, genetic background, etc.) enables reliable tracking. According to any parameter of interest, animals can then be identified, grouped, sorted, moved, and so forth. Crossings are automatically processed by the program. For example, new genetic backgrounds, generation number, and anticipated due dates are determined. The program also reminds the user when new births are expected and entering newborn animals only requires a few clicks. The genealogy of each animal can be determined in two different ways, one being the visualization of a genealogical tree from which information of ancestors can be retrieved.
This standalone program, that will be distributed free of charge to academic laboratories requesting a license, represents a new and valuable tool for all animal facility users, and permits simple and reliable tracking and retrieving of animals.
A survey of laboratories working with mice revealed that, except for the very recent "Mousebase" , which runs only on Macintoshes and requires the purchase of a license for multiple user configuration, and expensive commercial programs, no convenient system exists to handle recording information of mouse in animal facilities in a reliable manner. When this information is conventionally stored in notebooks, the tracking of different animals becomes quite tedious. Some laboratories have developed computerized lists using word processing applications, allowing animal searches with the word processor "find" function. But accidental modifications are possible and animal tracking, sorting and genealogy determination are basically impossible to perform. In order to sanitize this situation plaguing the majority of laboratories, we developed MICE (Mouse Information and Classification Entity), a standalone application which simulates an animal facility, and runs on both Windows and Macintosh computers. This allows laboratory members to virtually receive, breed and sort their animals, and to automatically record their history and genealogy, together with any other associated information. This program relies on the same strategy as Frozen Cell Stock Monitor (FCSM), another standalone program that we developed previously in order to simplify the monitoring of cell lines stored in liquid nitrogen containers .
searching and sorting animals,
information on animals,
These sections, which are described in more detail below, are accessible via the use of self explanatory buttons. Once entered, modifications are automatically saved, thus limiting the risk of data loss in case of a computer crash.
If these animals come from another MICE-monitored facility, the process of transfer is automatic: one simply has to select the file containing the imported animals (by default, named "Exported MICE", see below), and to open it. All the animals will automatically be added to the local MICE database. The date and the importing process will be recorded in the field "Comments" of each imported animal, and their parental description will include the note: "Not from that facility". To create the file containing the imported animals, the sender had to select the animals to be exported (using "mark") from his own MICE database, search all marked animals, and click on "export these animals" (see below).
It should be noted that a unique and definitive ID number is automatically attributed to each animal in the MICE database. A customized number, usually corresponding to the tail analysis, can be entered manually by the user in the "Analysis #" field. This latter number does not necessarily have to be unique and may be replaced later on if another analysis is available (see below).
Searching and sorting animals
To retrieve an animal from a MICE database by list browsing would be too cumbersome especially if thousands of animals are present. For the user's convenience, a powerful search function is available to identify a particular animal, by entering any parameter, alone or in combination with other parameters, including words present in the "Comments" section. Once animals are found, they can then be marked by clicking on "Mark these" or by clicking on the mark box of each animal of interest, to facilitate later retrieval using the "Find marked animals" button. Using the mark parameter, identified animals can be sacrificed individually or as a group, using the corresponding red buttons in the upper control panel. Once animals are recorded as sacrificed ("Dead"), they remain virtually present in the MICE database and are available for genealogy studies. All previous information that was entered also remains accessible after animals have been sacrificed. If the database becomes saturated with information concerning dead animals that are no longer of interest, these animals can be permanently removed by selecting them in the "View dead animal" window and clicking on one of the proposed "Discard" buttons. When a subset of animals is frequently used, it may be useful to use the "Mark" option, so that they can be easily sorted from other animals by clicking on "Find marked".
Living and dead animals are stored separately in the MICE database. They are accessible by clicking on the "View living animals" or "View dead animals" buttons. It is also possible to sort all the displayed lists by clicking on the small up and down arrows present next to each parameter (Fig. 4). One should note that except for ID numbers, up or down sorting are performed on an alphabetical basis. Since analysis numbers or cage locations frequently contain letters as well as numbers, the first character determines the position, then the second, and so on, and priority is given to numbers over letters. (for example, cage "1a" will be displayed before cage "a1", and "a11" before "a2").
It is often necessary to compare animals from the same litter. To that end, clicking on the sibling button in the list view will isolate all siblings of the animal chosen.
Finally, MICE offers the possibility to print cage labels. To this end, select all the animals present in the cage of interest (for example by using the "search" button, and entering the cage number), and click on the print icon. A choice will be offered to either print the list of the selected animals, or to print a cage label, on which the name (if common to all animals in cage), analysis # (if common to all animals in cage), owner (if common to all animals in cage), birth date (if common to all animals in cage), parents (if common to all animals in cage), and cage number are displayed, together with the number of females and males present in the cage.
Information on animals
Clicking on the "Check Dad" or "Check Mom" buttons will bring up the same window for the corresponding parent, from which the same ancestor browsing can be performed. It is possible to travel back and forth in the explored lineage using the left and right arrows.
Clicking on the symbolized tree will display a genealogical tree for the animal analyzed (Fig. 6). From that tree, which goes back 5 generations, any ancestor can be accessed by clicking on it. The same information screen will then be displayed for this specific ancestor. By selecting the tree button again, it is then possible to either display the original tree, or to build a new one corresponding to the chosen ancestor, and thus to go back further in the genealogy if necessary. Those trees can be printed to keep a visual track of the studied lineage.
Animals can be moved either within the MICE facility (i.e., to different cages), or to another facility.
To move animals from cage to cage, two options are possible: if only one mouse is to be moved from the "view animals" list, click on the cage number to be changed, and enter the new cage address. If the name of the animal has been clicked, and the window of information specific to that animal is being displayed, click on the green "update..." button and modify the cage address. In the case where several animals are to be moved, first select the animals and mark them as described above, then using the search function for marked animals select "move all to another cage". It is worth noting that when a crossing is performed, the Dad and Mom are automatically moved to the cage selected for the crossing.
To move animals to another facility, select and mark them as indicated above. Then using the search function for marked animals, select "export these animals". A new file containing these animals together with their corresponding information will be created on the desktop, named "Exported MICE". This file can be e-mailed to the receiving facility. Information on exported animals will still be present in your MICE facility, but in place of their cage addresses, "Exported" will be indicated. These animals will still be available for genealogical searches but will no longer be available for crossing. If one wants to definitively remove them from MICE, it is necessary to mark and select them with the search option, and choose "sacrifice all". Then, from "show dead animals", select "discard marked records". All traces of these animals will then be removed from MICE.
MICE is a virtual animal facility. It allows laboratories to efficiently keep track of their animals throughout time and despite the high people turn-over frequently associated with laboratories. It is easy and intuitive to use. This program, developed on FileMaker Pro™, runs indifferently on PC or Mac computers. Its runtime binding engine allows for standalone application, i.e., will run without having to install FileMaker Pro™ on the receiving computer. Printouts of summarized or detailed information corresponding to groups of animals or individuals, respectively, will simplify the manipulation of the real animals. We recommend using a computer with a screen definition of at least 768X1024, G3 or Pentium II processors, and a minimum of 50 Mo of free disk space for smooth operations. For information on the distribution of this program, that will be distributed free of charge to academic laboratories requesting a license, please e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate "MICE" in the subject field.
This work was supported by contract #5231 from ARC (Association pour la Recherche contre le Cancer) to KEB. KEB and PP are supported by CNRS.
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