Hurricane Sandy killed thousands of lab rodents at NYU in lower Manhattan

Earlier this week, we considered the fate of NYC's street rats after Sandy. In the New York Times today, Benedict Carey writes about "smaller but still important casualties" of the extreme storm this week: thousands of lab rats and mice, "genetically altered for use in the study of heart disease, cancer and mental disorders like autism and schizophrenia, that drowned in basement rooms at a New York University research center in Kips Bay." The collection is considered "one of the largest and most valuable of its kind in the country." They were housed in colonies in the cellar of the Smilow Research Center, on 1st Avenue near 30th Street.


  1. If any escaped, could they interbreed with the street rats? There’s going to be some habitat opening up soon.

    1. Drowning isn’t too bad IMO, on a scale of what is terrifying to the animal in terms of what bred captive mice are used for.

      When killing larger numbers in places I’ve worked I found freezing to be the least cruel, these would be food animals, not research in this case. 

    1. That would be a strong indicator of why they were not moved, if it wasn’t in Zone A or B. … 

      checked, that was Zone A. Someone seriously fucked up, the zones were predominantly flood/surge warning.

      This should not have happened, they could have spent a few hundred grand, or really any amount moving those mice and come out way ahead, but according to the article they thought the building was safe against flooding by design. I guess my own reaction would be if the people have to go the animals should too regardless of what the facility is supposed to be able to withstand.

  2. This has happened before during tropical storm Allison (similar storm danger, low winds but massive, massive rain, but not such a huge storm surge as Sandy) in Houston at the TMC mouse house. Thousands of expensive mice/rats/other drowned when basements flooded.

    As for moving them, unless flooding is a certainty it would be tough to justify economically, because it would be a massive effort. 

    I once worked tending lab mice, about 500, and it might be surprising to some how much space they take up in those kinds of numbers. Especially as once they are on a research track they must be kept segregated according to the guidelines of the work being done. That can mean as much as one cage about 6″ x 8″ per mouse. 

    Allison was an awesome storm rain-wise. No one paid it much mind, just your typical Gulf coast tropical storm, until it parked on Houston and rained and rained and rained. 

    They say thousands but I would not be surprised to learn it was tens of thousands if rats/mice were also being bred there but not in any research work yet.

    1. I was there at the time. It was tens of thousands of research animals — I think Baylor lost around 30,000 animals and UT Houston lost all of their animals. I think Baylor managed to get their large animals out in time, but if I remember correctly, there were a few large animals in the basement at UT Houston that were lost. It was really a tragedy. Scientists and institutions spend a lot of time trying to minimize the amount of stress and harm that they cause their research animals, and have numerous protocols in place that are standardized across institutions to ensure humane conditions. Something like this really throws a spanner in the works. This is not even mentioning the years and years it can take to construct some of these mouse lines.

      1. “Scientists and institutions spend a lot of time trying to minimize the amount of stress and harm that they cause their research animals, and have numerous protocols in place that are standardized across institutions to ensure humane conditions.”This is an understatement. The OLAW and USDA keep a very, very close eye on research animals. Mice are one thing, but try keeping dogs for research – the USDA will be in your institution several times a year doing spot inspections that take days. Animals in research are treated much better than humans (until their demise, that is), as they cannot give informed consent. For instance, animals must have fresh air, meaning air in these spaces is changed out every minute. Yes, every minute. There’s no place of employment I can think of that has that kind of standard.

        Source: worked on an IACUC committee. 

    2. I think one thing to remember with the TMC disaster is that the event was specifically engineered into the building design…except that the human factor failed and someone forgot to seal flood doors.  TMC also had generators in the basement and the flooding downed back up power because these rooms flooded. 
      Contrast that with the symphony (which I think might be a closer example): they lost a lot because they used the basement as storage without a flood scenario on their minds.

        1. Mightn’t it help to establish a rule that Living Critters Without Their Own Set Of Keys be kept in the upper floors, rather than belowground?

  3. Well, try to look at it scientifically  at least we know for sure now that drowning kills rats 100% of the time.

  4. Genetically modified rats and mice drowned?  Sure they did.  That’s what they want you to think.  I’ll bet they made a clean getaway and are telepathically linking right now into an intelligent superbeing.

    And a guy named Willard is running for President.

  5. We’re so busy talking about mice and rats; has there been any word about how the people living in NYC subway tunnels have fared?  Or the homeless in general?

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