Basic Maintenance and Breeding of the Opossum Monodelphis domestica.
INTRODUCTIONMonodelphis domestica, the gray, short-tailed, or laboratory opossum, is the most commonly used laboratory marsupial. In addition to the factors that make it a convenient laboratory animal (small size, ease of care, nonseasonal breeding), it is the first marsupial whose genome has been sequenced. Monodelphis has proven useful as a model organism for studies on spinal cord regeneration, ultraviolet (UV)-induced melanoma, and genetic influences on cholesterol, as well as comparative studies of the immune system. In addition, Monodelphis has been used to understand the basic functions of the olfactory system and the role of various olfactory chemicals in social and reproductive behavior. Recently, Monodelphis has been used to understand fundamental aspects of marsupial development, anatomy, evolution, and evolutionary consequences of the derived marsupial mode of development and reproduction. Monodelphis are easily maintained and bred in the lab. To do extensive embryonic work, a reasonably large breeding colony must be maintained. A colony of ~100 animals (~3:1 female:male ratio) allows for sacrifice of up to 12 pregnant females per month for experimental purposes, as well as for replenishment of the colony. However, because adults will fight and often kill one another if kept in the same cage for prolonged periods, we have developed a special breeding protocol that provides high rates of breeding success (75%-90%), with minimal injury due to fighting. Here, we outline this breeding strategy and describe how to successfully maintain a colony of Monodelphis in a laboratory setting.
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