Thursday, 11 August 2016 12:43

The Cost of Zika Zoo

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Published in Zika Diaries
C57/Black mice awaiting inoculation with Zika virus. Photo by Amy Rosenfeld. C57/Black mice awaiting inoculation with Zika virus. Photo by Amy Rosenfeld.

Back in June, I wrote about the long process of obtaining approval to do animal research at my university (Zika Zoo). After several months our protocol was approved, the mice were ordered, and now we are ready to do an experiment. This week we also received the bill for animals and their housing—an eye-opener for anyone not used to animal research.

One of our experimental goals is to understand how Zika virus affects brain development (A Zika Window on Brain Development). We are also interested in figuring out how the virus crosses the placenta. To answer this question, we plan to infect pregnant mice with Zika virus and assay for the presence of infectious virus in the placenta and in various embryo tissues at different times after conception.

We need a lot of mice for these experiments, because we are using two mouse strains, multiple mice for each time point, control uninfected mice, and different Zika virus strains (to determine if viruses isolated from different parts of the world differ in their potential to cause birth defects). Over 500 mice will be needed for the first set of experiments.

We ordered mice in June. This week they are old enough to be mated, which is done by placing one male and three females together in a cage. Successful mating is determined by the presence of a mucus plug in the female vagina. Not all females will become pregnant, so we have to mate about 25% more mice than we need.

Here is perhaps the most difficult part of these mouse experiments—paying for them! I received a bill from the animal facility this week: we ordered 100 females at $21.68 each, and 50 males at $19.63 each. Including shipping, the total cost for these 150 mice is $3,419.10!

Once the mice arrive at the mouse facility, we have to pay to house them. Each cage—which can house up to 5 mice—costs $1.11 per day. Our July bill for the "mouse house," which provides food, water, and cage cleaning weekly, was $865.80.

The grand total of our first mouse bill: $4,284.90.

We don’t have grant support to do Zika virus research—we are paying for it from funds meant for work on other viruses. Unless we obtain funds for Zika virus work, we won’t be able to do many of these mouse experiments; they are too expensive, and my laboratory does not have the money to support them. 

Last week we sent our first Zika virus grant application to the NIH. Let’s hope that it does well, so that we can continue our Zika virus research in mice. I’m sure it will be the first of many grant applications that we submit on this virus. And yes, I’ll let you know how we fare. That’s the point of these Zika Diaries.

Last modified on Tuesday, 23 August 2016 15:57
Vincent Racaniello

Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D. is Professor of Microbiology at Columbia University Medical Center. As principal investigator of his laboratory, he oversees the research that is carried out by Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows. He also teaches virology to graduate students, as well as medical, dental, and nursing students.

Vincent entered the world of social media in 2004 with virology blog, followed by This Week in Virology. Videocasts of lectures from his undergraduate virology course are on iTunes University and virology blog. You can find him on WikipediaTwitter, Facebook, and Instagram. His goal is to be Earth’s virology professor. In recognition of his contribution to microbiology education, he was awarded the Peter Wildy Prize for Microbiology Education by the Society for General Microbiology. His Wildy Lecture provides an overview of how he uses social media for science communication.