Thursday, December 18, 2008

Murine apocalypse

I've started my first rotation in an immunology lab, and I have to say that the transition is raising a few starts out of me. I've only ever worked with microorganisms, bacteria and yeast, so switching over to immunology's preferred model, mice, has been a strange experience.

The last two days I've gone to the vivarium to either observe or to practice handling the animals myself. It was somewhat disturbing to watch samples being taken from the mice, either orbitally (having a capillary stuck behind the eye to produce blood) or by snipping off a piece of the tail. I'd have guessed the latter to be incredibly distressing, but apparently this isn't the case.

I also watched as mice were sacrificed, either by CO2 asphyxiation or by having their necks broken. I'm assuming the latter is within proper protocol, though I'm not certain.

It's the sacrificial part that really felt weird. I've been a pet owner all my life, so it's rather jarring to see small, fuzzy creatures being killed. In my head, I know that it's all for the sake of scientific progress, and I personally have no problems with the use of lab animals, but that doesn't change the lurching feeling it gave me.

I suppose this is very similar to the reaction people have when they see these things at a slaughterhouse, on a hunting trip, or even on a family farm. As a society, we're largely removed from the production of our food, which puts us several steps away from these animals being killed. (I keep trying to come up with a good "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" joke, but it's not happening). We're far removed from the days where almost everybody had to kill an animal for food at least once in their lives, so it's understandable when the practice makes people a bit squeamish.

Still, maybe it's a good thing that I feel uneasy about the whole affair. The conventional wisdom seems to be that most serial killers get their start torturing/killing animals. I should probably worry if I ever start to enjoy doing it. Hm . . . what if many would-be serial killers end up in science careers so they can stick to what they know? What if science turned people into serial killers?

Incidentally, does anyone know a good recipe for fava beans? I was hoping for something that would go well with a nice chianti.


Jen said...

If you encounter any science types who also started fires or inexplicably wet their beds as children, RUN.


The orbital sampling would freak me out to no end.

Hal said...

I'm no light weight, but it's quite disturbing. Their eye bulges out and you stick a piece of glass behind it. I'm terrified that the first time I try it I'm going to rip an eye out of the socket.

One of the techs in the lab refuses to do it because the first time someone tried to teach her how, she passed out and spend the day in the emergency room. That might put me off, too.