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Biology

Should living organisms be used in teaching laboratories?

Animals have for a long time been used in the laboratory for research and teaching purposes. In the teaching laboratory, it is essential to have a model or specimen that can stimulate students actively and contribute positively to their development in the bioscientific world. It is important to have a living organism in any physiological study or experiment if such learners are to be well equipped in terms of information and experience.

Any laboratory teaching that uses a living organism, especially animals, engages the learners actively which eventually leads to the students indepth understanding of the physiology of a living organism. The animals used in the learning process also provide the student with the relevant experiences through practical observation that is different from any that can be gained through the use of artificial models and computer programs employed in a similar study. It is therefore my opinion that animals should be used in the teaching laboratory. Only living organisms can effectively assist learners to understand, and experience other living organisms that they will maintain contact with after their learning process (Ploger, & Yasukawa, 2003).

The use of animals in the teaching laboratory has other advantages to the learner. For example, they help the learners to acquire and develop knowledge directly from the living organism that is part of the natural phenomena. Such knowledge also enables them to acquire more experiences in dealing with other living organisms.

The animals help the students conducting experiments in laboratories to have a deeper understanding of living organisms and the environment they dwell in through experience. This enables them to acquire relevant skills in handling living organisms and can therefore be entrusted to deal with, and handle any issues related to living organisms in the outside world.

Learning through the use of animals challenges learners’ personal beliefs in regard to the natural world and living organisms. The hands-on experience acquired though direct animal experimentation enables the biology student to carry out further research by their own and to accurately present any scientific findings without any difficulties. They also acquire analytical skills that are useful in any independent research they are likely to carry out after their studies.

Phylogenetic and ecological or environmental issues that affect the choice of organisms used in the teaching laboratory

There are a number of issues that have to be taken into consideration before an organism is used or chosen for any teaching exercise. Such issues are broken down to phylogenetic, ecological or environmental related issues.

In phylogenetics, the developmental history or evolutionary history of a given organisms must be taken into consideration before the organism is chosen for any scientific use in a laboratory. Different species develop and evolve differently in the natural world. The same species respond differently when used in studies, or for experimentation purposes. Some species of animals, as a result of their evolutionary history, may not give accurate results when used in a scientific field or in a learning laboratory. They respond or behave differently when moved from their natural world. It is therefore significant to comprehend the reproduction cycle, the growth, activity level, the health and behavior of a given animal species before using it in a teaching laboratory if accurate results are to be collected at the end of the study period.

In ecological or environment issues, several factors have to be considered before a living organism is introduced in a study laboratory. Its behavior and response to the new environment has to be considered if the study findings and conclusions are to be relied on. For example, when aquatic organisms are moved from their natural habitat, several factors both in the micro and macro environment have to be considered. For example, the water quality, the life support systems, the temperature, level of humidity, air aeration and light illumination have to be observed if the study is to be successful. Animals have different behavioral responses to a change in their natural ecological habitats. If the new environment subjects the animal to some levels of stress, the learners might acquire the wrong information which will not be useful to them in the actual world or for any independent research they may carry out in the future. If the new environment does not have all the life supporting facilities for any animal used, the animal is likely to die or be stressed which will ultimately give the wrong results and information to the learners. Social animals have also to be kept in pairs to reduce any form of stress that can negatively affect the results collected (Beauchamp, 2008).

The amount of space also has to be considered when an animal is chosen for teaching in a laboratory. The weight and body size of the animal has to be considered before deciding on the amount of space needed. Large animals, for example chimpanzees, will need bigger cages while rodents like mice need smaller cages. The animal has to be comfortable to facilitate the achievement of qualitative results.

It is therefore important for any institution or research facility to create a conducive environment that is similar to the natural habitat of any animal used for teaching purposes. This will ensure that the results collected from any study they are used in is reliable.

Alternatives to using Animals in the teaching Laboratory and the limits of their usefulness

There are alternatives that can be used in place of animals in a teaching laboratory. Computer models and simulations can be employed in place of animals. Models that represent the different organs of a living organism can be used. For example a cardiovascular and neural system of a living organism can be represented through the use of a computer model. The same model can show how blood flows through the system and effects of having larger of smaller vessels of carrying the blood. They can also help the learners understand the effects caused by different resistance levels in the blood circulation system. (Reinhardt & Swiss Institute for Alternatives to Animal Testing, 1994).

Simulations can also be used in place of animals. They resemble a living organism and give similar results to living organisms when used in teaching laboratory. They are independent resources used in scientific studies which can be rerun a number of times over a given period.

In place of living organisms, preserved tissues can also be put into productive use. Tissues from dead animals can be preserved for a long time and re-used a number of times. Instead of dissecting a new frog to observe its internal organs, a preserved one displaying the same organs can be used for the same purpose and will definitely give the same results.

Even though alternative methods used in teaching laboratories have unique contributions to the study process and acquisition of knowledge, they do not provide learners with an opportunity to directly observe and study living organisms which robs them off the much needed experience of working with living organisms. The only way that a learner can experience, acquire knowledge and understanding of living things and their life supporting systems is to be in direct contact with living organisms in the learning environment. It is therefore important for animals to be used in teaching laboratories.

References

Using animals in research, testing and teaching. [Rev Sci Tech. 2005] – PubMed – NCBI. (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved February 12, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16358

Gauthier C., Griffin G. (2005).Using animals in research, testing and teaching. Canadian Council on Animal care, Canada.

Ploger, B. J., & Yasukawa, K. (2003). Exploring animal behavior in laboratory and field: An hypothesis-testing approach to the development, causation, function, and evolution of animal behavior. Amsterdam: Academic Press.

Reinhardt, C. A., & Swiss Institute for Alternatives to Animal Testing. (1994). Alternatives to animal testing: New ways in the biomedical sciences, trends and progress. Weinheim: VCH.

Beauchamp, T. L. (2008). The human use of animals: Case studies in ethical choice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.