So we’ve all grown up hearing about the positive effects of testing new medicines, products, and chemicals on lab rats and mice, right? These two organisms are so engrained in the academic community and in labs across the world that even just the thought of having them permanently removed from such environments seems like a near impossible task. Even my first science-fair project utilized mice and not once during my numerous presentations to both the judges and scientists of the community did anyone bother to ask why I made the choice to use what I did. Whether it is the fact that they are, generally, more cost effective than many other animal species or the fact that they, simply, have an enormous, often overwhelming population size, mice make up the general back-bone of research in studies ranging from biology to psychology and everything in between, but as R.A.T.S., recently acquired tech students, it is imperative that we ask why such an organism as the rat or the mouse plays such a vital role in these fields and why they may continue to do so.
Naturally, it can be easily noted that there are many differences between a rat and a person such as weight, height, social structure, and much more, but as the article from the Jackson Laboratory webpage called, “Why Mouse Genetics,” outlines, we share between 95 and 98 percent of our genomes with these tiny creatures and can contract many of the same diseases. The more incredible fact is that the Jackson is responsible for the creation of a particular breed of mouse, known commonly as “Lenny’s Mouse” which has an altered immune system to allow for the introduction and testing of human tissues inside of the mouse, a task which was formally difficult. Then again, this new type of mouse is the product of work from scientists at the Jackson Laboratory, so it is only natural that they praise the effectiveness and efficacy of mouse studies.
We have seen the scientific effectiveness of utilizing both rats and mice in the laboratory setting but what about the legal effectiveness of using such organisms. According to the article called “Mice and Rats in Research” from the National Anti-Vivisection Society legislation meant to protect animal species from excessive testing, such as the Animal Wellness Act, has recently been undermined by the sheer genetic convenience of rats and mice through initiatives such as the “Knock Out Mouse Project” which seeks to turn on and off genetic features of mice in order to have the side-effects of the testing be more similar to those that humans would be expected to face. It should, also, be noted that according to this article, organisms such as mice are not protected under the animal wellness act as such an effort to categorize the different kinds of mice would unnecessarily drain the funds away from the USDA. This fact has led many labs to seek either the mouse or the rat as their de facto test subject.
Let’s face it; these two common test-subjects are not going anywhere anytime soon. The rat and mouse are far too convenient to give up and there are just too few substitutes that have both the scientific viability and the legal protection to create a species that is a “One-stop-shop” for a great deal of academic needs.
Want to know more? Check out these links:
@navs_us. “Mice and Rats in Research | National Anti-Vivisection Society.” National AntiVivisection Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2016. <http://www.navs.org/what-we-do/keep-you-informed/science-corner/animals-used-in-research/mice-and-rats/>.