8/3/2023 - Technology and Innovation

Apology to laboratory animals, the "pets of science".

By Pablo Ortega Ferron

Apology to laboratory animals, the "pets of science".

Rats, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, fish, insects, cows, sheep, chimpanzees all share one thing in common, their names are never on the cover of the articles. However, their contributions are often responsible for what you get in the results. In vivoexperimental models are one of the most useful tools in experimental science, mainly in health-related fields. And animals in science have existed for several centuries, even Aristotle dissected multiple animals, there is also evidence of Alexandrian physicians (3rd century BC) and Galen himself (2nd century BC) doing experiments on live animals. Now that modern experimentation, closer to what we know today, can be observed from the sixteenth century, with Andrea Vesalius in Italy, where mainly dogs and pigs were observed with the purpose of analyzing their functioning and describing the homology that exists with humans. [1] With so much history, they deserve an apology.

All this to say that science has used animals since its inception, and the truth is that the achievements that have been made from them are invaluable. And it is true that I was not completely honest at the beginning, since they do have famous animals, since all over the world Dolly the doe, Laika the dog, and Pavlov's dogs (although it is the name of the scientist, the dogs are known) if they are recognized as pioneers in the advances of science. But here we come to talk about the endless number of nameless animals that deserve recognition for what they did, because their lives meant much more than they could ever imagine and because there is no scientist who respects himself and works with animals, who does not have an eternal respect and gratitude for his animals.

Animal models serve multiple functions, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this paper they come in many shapes, species and sizes. From rats and mice, to bovines and insects, any experimental procedure using animals must find the most suitable model for its ultimate goal, it is not an easy process, and it cannot be said that you simply use rats for everything. It is vitally important to know the experiment and to know the model in order to maximize the efficiency of the project, and although it is not always possible to choose the perfect model, none of this is random.

Every laboratory animal has a specific purpose, today and thanks to the wonders of genetic engineering it has been possible to design specific models for specific problems. A great example exists in the form of a mouse that may well be responsible for reducing the problem of polio to what it is today. Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a disease caused by the poliovirus, an enterovirus that has been present in humanity for thousands of years, there are even some images in Roman temples that show people probably infected with the virus, and mummies with symptoms characteristic of the disease have also been found.

This virus has 3 serotypes, of which type 1 was the main cause of epidemics. The infection is highly transmissible and asymptomatic and minor versions, such as abortive poliomyelitis, are more common than paralytic and non-paralytic infections, but people who remember the great polio epidemic and the much talked about "lungs of steel" will know how terrible this disease can be. [2] And causally the human is the only natural host for this virus, or well that was true until a genetically modified animal was developed that will become infected as well. Mice are usually resistant to this virus, but thanks to the efforts of Dr. Racaniello and collaborators, transgenic mice were developed that will express Pvr (the receptor for this virus), and these mice do show infection following inoculation with virulent strains of polio.

And why did they modify a poor animal to make it get sick with something that did not even affect it? Well, thanks to this breakthrough, and the contribution of these little mice, questions about the pathogenesis of poliomyelitis, such as its resistance to certain cell types, its spread, and most importantly, the basis of the attenuation phenotype of attenuated poliovirus vaccines, can be studied in detail. [3] These mice provided the foundation for turning polio from a disease pervasive in society to an orphan disease on several continents.

And this is just one example of the hundreds of animals that have been modified for the study of specific phenomena, we have models of diabetes, obsessiveness, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, several types of cancer and behavioral models, which help us to understand the world around us. And much is said about the cruelty or mistreatment that these animals suffer, and although it is true that there are also models of chronic pain, or injuries where we study what these things do in the body, none of this is done with malice, there are not a lot of evil scientists hurting animals for fun.

These are necessary processes that give us a lot of extremely valuable information to be able to fix these problems at a higher level. I won't excuse what happens to lab animals by saying "that's what they are for". But, at least I and the people I have come in contact with, genuinely recognize the value of the contributions these beings make to science and to humanity. And I can assure you that if you feel bad when you step on your pet's tail and can't explain that it was unintentional, it is much worse not to be able to explain to a little rat how its contribution and suffering is going to revolutionize the world.

In conclusion, I have worked with animals since early in my career, and from day one we are taught not only to respect them but to do everything possible to reduce their stress and discomfort, in addition we are shown the concept of the 3 Rs, these mean: Reduce, Replace and Refine. Thatis, reduce as much as possible the number of animals for an experiment, replace the animal model by in vitro or in silicomodels when possible, and refine the experimental techniques so that they are more efficient and less disturbing for these laboratory "companions". In addition to the fact that there are multiple norms and laws on the proper handling of animals, here in Mexico we have the NOM-062-ZOO-1999 [4] which refers not only to their handling in experiments, but also to the living conditions they should have, available space, food and care that these animals should have.

Laboratory animals, in vivo models , or the "pets of science" are truly the pillar of many of the milestones of modern science, and their contributions and cooperation are eternally appreciated by the entire scientific community, this writing is just an apology, to let the general public know of their significance, and to remind all those who work with animals, to thank their four-legged companion the next time they see them .

[caption id="attachment_10847" align="aligncenter" width="397"] Memorial statue of lab mice in Russia[/caption]


  1. Tomé C. Animal experimentation (I) - Cuaderno de Cultura Científica [Internet]. Scientific Culture Notebook. 2015 [cited July 27, 2023]. Available from: https://culturacientifica.com/2015/07/14/experimentacion-animal-i/
  2. Tesini BL. Poliomyelitis [Internet]. MSD Manual Professional Edition. [cited 2023 July 27 2023]. Available from: https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/enteroviruses/poliomyelitis
  3. Find People. Vincent R. racaniello, PhD [Internet]. Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. 2017 [cited 2023 July 27]. Available from: https://www.vagelos.columbia.edu/profile/vincent-r-racaniello-phd
  4. Government of Mexico. NOM-062-ZOO-1999. [Internet]. Gob.mx. 2001 [cited July 27, 2023]. Available from: https://www.gob.mx/cms/uploads/attachment/file/203498/NOM-062-ZOO-1999_220801.pdf

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pablo ortega

Pablo Ortega Ferron

Hello, I am Pablo Ortega Ferron, a Biotechnology undergraduate student at Anáhuac University, currently developing my graduation project focused on observing the different effects that type 2 diabetes mellitus has on memory and learning. I have a special interest in clinical research, mainly focused on medical biotechnology and genetic topics.

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