The relationship between man and mouse has had, at times, a strained history: They were vilified in the Book of Leviticus; their most feared enemy, the cat, was deified in ancient Egypt; and their English name evolved from the derogatory Sanskrit mush, meaning "to steal."1 Over the centuries, a more amicable rapport grew between Asian and European breeders and their furry pets, prized for their exotic color and behavior. Yet only a few scientists prior to 1900 took advantage of the creatures' ubiquitous presence.

But, as the laws of Gregor Mendel were being rediscovered, the mouse began nosing its way into the scientific sphere. Before 1900, mice had been used for comparative anatomy and air quality experiments, but later, scientists chose them to test Mendel's theories because of their small size, quick breeding, and easily discernable variation. The mouse was on the way to helping reinvent biological science—and...

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