This algorithm decodes rat squeaks and could revolutionize animal research

This algorithm decodes rat squeaks and could revolutionize animal research

– [Narrator] For 100 plus
years, rodents have been a priceless proxy for humans
in medical experiments. By one tally, mouse and rat
studies have earned around 75 Nobel prizes in health and physiology. Scientists routinely map rodent
genes, alter their brains, and measure every inch of their behavior for the sake of experiments. But what we can’t do, at least
not easily, is just listen to what they’re saying. Mice and rats are smart,
they’re social, they’re chatty, but a lot of that chatter
is above the frequency our ears can hear. If we could listen in,
we could learn a ton. But for lots of researchers,
ultrasonic rodent calls have always been just out of reach. – Really, people have known
about it for 20 years or so, but the amount of publications
that come out is really low, and that’s just because of
the time investment involved and the cost of all the equipment. – [Narrator] Kevin
Coffey is a senior fellow at the University of
Washington School of Medicine. And he just co-authored
an interesting paper. Basically, he and his
collaborator, Russell Marx, built software that can
quickly and accurately process rodent calls. If you have a
special microphone to capture high-frequency audio, it can
sift through an audio clip, find rodent chatter, and categorize it. – [Kevin] You can just place a
microphone over the cage and listen in and let them tell you
exactly how they’re feeling. – This could be huge for
all kinds of research, so we wanted to try it for ourselves. But first, we needed
to find some rat calls. So Kevin mailed us one of
their special microphones. We can feed it into the
laptop and get a graph of the audio spectrum in the room. Way down here, this is audible sound. Human ears tend to max
out around 20 kilohertz, but rats can squeak from
20 all the way up to 115. We can’t hear any of that,
but we can record it. Step two: record a rat. We found a rat adoption
agency called Rattie Ratz, and we invited a volunteer named Jennifer and a rat named Buddy to the studio. Buddy was more comfortable on
shoulders than on the table, so recording audio was tricky. But we did our best to
tease out some squeaks. We gave Buddy treats, we let him hang out with his
friend, and we tickled him. Rats love being tickled. Anyway, we spent a few
minutes recording Buddy and then looked at the audio. I don’t really know what
I’m looking at here. I think these long even
lines in the ultrasonics, I think that’s the whine
from the fluorescent lights or the electronics. This did look promising for
a second, these big spikes, but you know what that is? It’s him nibbling on those little snacks. Clearly we needed help
actually finding the rat calls, so we went to Seattle. We met with Kevin and Russell
to see how the professionals capture rat sounds, and to
learn more about their software, and to play with more rats. Kevin and Russell work
at the Neumaier Lab here at the University of Washington. They study anxiety,
depression, and drug addiction with the ultimate goal of new
drugs or therapies for people, and their work relies on rats. – Rats are great because
they’re quick to learn. They’re extremely genetically
similar to humans, surprisingly similar, to humans. They’ve produced a lot
of translatable outcome, so when you study something in rats, it’s got a high likelihood
that it’ll translate to humans. – [Narrator] Their setup
is similar to ours: a special mic pointed
at the rats and a laptop running audio software. We’re looking for calls in a couple areas. Squeaks down here, around 20
kilohertz, happen when rats are nervous or annoyed. When they’re happy, you
tend to see calls up in this 50 kilohertz range. – [Russell] These ones, though, are higher frequency and they’re shorter, wavier,
whistlier — if we were to slow them down — and they
make that when they’re happy. They really love the play. Yeah, those are calls,
those are definitely calls. – These are tickle-induced calls. – Yeah, yeah, rats love rough and tumble play.
– Scientific term. – Yeah. It’s just staring right
down the barrel of the lens. – [Kevin] Yeah, it likes
it, probably sees himself. – [Narrator] So we captured lots of calls, but for rat or mouse
researchers, the tricky bit isn’t actually the recording — it’s the analysis. – When I did it as a PhD
student, we did it all by hand. You would record, and then
you would listen to, you know, six hours takes 60 hours
if you have to slow it down to be able to hear it. We would record hundreds and
hundreds of hours of audio, and to go through that took
a team of undergrads a year. – [Narrator] There has
been software to help, but it’s expensive and
the team found it finicky, which is what made Russell
start work on new software they call DeepSqueak. It’s got that name because it
uses deep learning software, which was meant for a
totally different purpose: self-driving cars. – They’re called
convolutional neural networks, and they’re designed to look
at a scene and say okay, that’s a stop sign, or
that’s a coffee cup, or that’s a pedestrian, or whatever. You could take the
spectrogram and audio signal and turn it into a picture and
apply the exact same neural networks that people spent so
much money and time producing. – [Narrator] So here’s what
that looks like in action. First, Russell looked at our
audio from Buddy the rat, and just at a glance, picked out some long 20 kilohertz calls. Sadly, that means Buddy
was a little nervous. (high-pitched squeaks) – So that’s slowed down 20 times. – That’s like a whale sound. – It does. (high pitched squeal)
– Wow. – [Narrator] Next, we looked
at some of those same calls in DeepSqueak, which
automatically found Buddy’s squeaks much faster than real time. – And it’s finished, it’s very fast. Now I can go over here and
load the calls in this file and take a look. – Okay, so you
can sort of see the shape that’s completely isolated
from everything else. – [Narrator] We also pulled up some audio
of rats drinking sugar water. They love sugar like they love tickling. – They like to make this
pattern where they have a shorter note and then
some trails above that. (squeaks) – [Narrator] ID’ing rodent
calls is valuable on its own, but DeepSqueak has a couple
other tricks up its sleeve. Scientists tend to group rat
calls into around 20 categories based on the kind of squeak. But beyond saying they’re
positive or negative, not much is known about what they mean. DeepSqueak can’t tell us
that, but it can organize every call it sees. That’s what this chart is, it’s
a plot of squeaks organized by shape and pitch. – So you can kind of see the
calls over here in this corner are all kind of long and wavy,
and down here they’re shorter. – [Narrator] DeepSqueak can
even tell you if one call often follows another. Russell calls that syntax,
which tiptoes toward an even bigger idea, that
these aren’t just calls, but maybe something resembling a language. – The most direct scientific
answer is that the order of their calls is not random. – That’s what you’re willing to say. – That’s not enough to say
that it is language or not. – Right. – [Narrator] Those big questions
demand their own studies, but Kevin and Russell
still have full-time jobs studying depression and addiction. DeepSqueak will certainly help with that. If a rat avoids tasty sugar
water in an experiment, is that because it’s happily distracted, or because it’s anxious? The squeaks can give clues, but
for now, the team just wants more researchers to
start capturing chatter. Because with a big enough
library of squeaks, someone will crack the big questions. – To get the Rosetta Stone, you know, like what does each call mean? You kind of need a lot of
people working on different behaviors and seeing
what calls are made. – [Narrator] From here on out,
they’ll be doing their part. – [Kevin] There’s no down side anymore. Yeah, we’re trying to
add it to everything, any time we do something
to the animals, we listen. – So if you saw this video
and were like, “Oh my gosh, I need a pet rat,” you should
consider rescuing one. There are lots of small animal
rescue and adoption agencies all around the country. If you happen to live in
the Bay Area, you should check out Rattie Ratz,
because they’re great. But otherwise, just do some Googling. There is a ton out there.

100 thoughts on “This algorithm decodes rat squeaks and could revolutionize animal research

  1. The fact that the end of this encouraged people to rescue rats! Thank you so much. Not only was this super interesting but as a rat lover and advocate trying to get our fellow humans to understand what amazing creatures they are it made me so happy for you to make sure your viewers recognized their value as amazing pets. SPCAs also sometimes carry small animal departments 🙂

  2. Rats and mice are such intelligent creatures. I really don't support places like that, that support Mills. That's exactly where they get all there rats. There are so many better ways, but they choose cheaper. Not the rats used for sound, but the rats researched on.

  3. I spoke rat once, i understood him loud and clear.

    When i was young, I had a pet rat named Gator. One day, I left Gator playing in my 5 year old sister's room. Out of nowhere, I heard the rat screaming for dear life. Around the corner and into her room and to my horror, I witnessed such a torturous scene. I yelled at her and asked her what she was doing. She said, "I was trying to help him poop!" I said, "that's not his poop sack!"

  4. It’s all fun and games until you realize that the same pets like buddy are being tortured for the sake of science :3c

  5. I would love to try the deepsqueak software for my research work to see if i can get an audio record as itry to see if i can use locally available herbs in my country to prevent the onset of dmba induced cancer

  6. uggggggggggg that's like a the worst living conditions ever for rats. and at the end adopt 1?!? you mean 2 or more

  7. What if whales, birds, and rats speak the same language? Rats at the highest frequency, birds at a medium frequency, and whales at the lowest frequency…. 🤔

  8. Hey! Great video. I was hesitant to watch because a lot of rat research videos show people doing awful things to them…but I was pleasantly surprised with your approach and research. I live in the Southeast us, and I have many rescue rats here. I'm very good with their behaviors and mannerisms so maybe someday I could be of help in this area of research. Also I'm an addict in recovery so I'm painfully familiar with that aspect as well lol. Shameless self plug here, if anyone's interested in collaborating on rat stuff, or especially if anyone's interested in adopting some very well trained rescue rats let me know 😊 thanks!!

  9. I could see this being useful in helping advance the quality of life of lab rats by checking for happy or scared squeaks. I hope the medical field advances their care of these animals so they atleast have a decent quality of life while also advancing human medicine.

  10. inb4; the machines get so refined they start being able to communicate with the rats
    rats become civilised and they create rat super soldiers
    let them back into ratdom and they colonise and have an all our war with the other rats before establishing mini cities
    the rats become more civilised then us and teach us about sociology later criticising the treatment of there people through the years

  11. Deepsqueak should be used for dolphins! Wtf are we doing with our lives not looking for animal communications

  12. i jsut spent 3 hours with my rats but this video is forcing me to go and give them more hugs. i am going to go give them hugs. HUG TIME FOR RATTIES

  13. Can we have an international rat memorial day? or all test animals memorial day. We should all be more appreciative of what they endure and sacrifice for humans.

  14. So many animals are held down as "nothing more than packages of flesh and instincts".
    Any and all research serving to show humans that animals have languages, feelings, personalities, is A OK with me.

  15. I have many rats and this is sooo true, they LOVE being tickled and are so adorable and smart, very easy to teach tricks, and love treats. It would be amazing if someday we can see what our furry pets are trying to tell us ^-^

  16. I have 15 rats. They absolutely love tickles. And definitely food 😂😂. They all have different personalities. I believe they do have a language. I can tell when my rats are happy or sad or anxious just by their normal squeaks. I love pet rats so much 😍

  17. I love rats and want 2 pet rats (Since they're too social for just one) but they live too short and my heart would be broken too soon.

  18. My mom is a research pharmacologist and once her company ordered the wrong kind of rats. So we got pet rats. RIP Vinny, Ringo, and George. May you eat treats in heaven

  19. Rat's are awesome. Quite similar to puppies. Were it not for the fact that they trail urine everywhere and chew on electrical cords, I'd have a couple for pets. I lived with some before and when I played guitar they would gather up on my shoulder and lap to sniff around and listen. Talk about social critters 🙂

  20. And don't forget: Rats are excellent prey animals. Ideally suited for snakes, lizards , cats, owls, dogs, ferrets just to name some. They most certainly serve a very important role as food.

  21. I like to think that rats are going to help me with my anxiety and depression, there is something so wholesome about that

  22. I'd love them to analyze a series of rat squeeks (take video at the same time of the audio, see what the rats were doing at the time, correlate that to the squeeks)…AND THEN play that video to another group of rats, take video/audio of what they do, and analyze that to see how the reacted to the other rat squeeks they heard.

  23. Imagine aliens only being able to communicate telepathically and they can’t figure us out or our language because it’s just so foreign to them. Like they communicate with feelings not words.

  24. i just wanna hear the deep squeak.

    but i always love hearing about genetically altered, tortured rodents able to give us our makeup and cleaning products when products could simply be tested on a subject it’ll actually be used on hehe! ^_^

  25. ‘Doctor Rat’ by W Kotzwinkle would make useful reading for these scientists. The ethics – or lack of – are disturbing. Human societal problems of addiction and depression need not be addressed by experimenting on other species in the name of big pharma’s interests and research grants.

  26. ……Hopefully those "squeaks" aren't just the sounds of them breathing/lungs. Because of their respiratory issue, their breathing alone can sound a bit squeaky 😦

  27. I just wish they'd quit testing on animals for sake of humans, we have prisoners on death row that could give back what they took by donating their bodies to science instead of just killing them and get no result, we could find out all kinds of good information, because they can talk and tell you where animals can't ! 😕✌👍

  28. I wish at the end, when he talked about rat rescue and adoption, that he would've encourage people to do their research before getting rats. There's soooo much that goes into their care that you NEED to read up on! So ya'll, please do your research before getting a rat- or any pet, for that matter. 🙂

  29. when slowed down they make the same whistling noises a british butcher makes, or made before the big supermarket explosion of the 2000's & 2010's

  30. "Gee Jim, what do you wanna do tonight?"
    "…the same thing we do every night, Buddy. Try to get wasted on sugar water!"

  31. I have pet rats it hurts to hurt them , they r beautiful, I watch them talking to me, but I hear random frequencies

  32. If you translated the calls of your average lab rat colony, you'd probably get something like, "Oh, new fish huh? Well, don't worry buddy, I got yer back. Just remember not to lift your tail when the scientists are bathing you."

    "Hey Jenner, Nicodemus, Mickey and I are plannin' an escape tonight. You and the new fish want in?"

  33. that's not really "Decoding," because decoding would require that you know the actual meaning of what the rats are saying. All that's really been learned here is low pitch = negative feelings and high pitch = positive feelings. I'm not saying that it's not possible to make further advancements, just saying that your video title is SUPER clickbait-y and the first half of the video is just filler and a waste of time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *