Rats, Depression, And Animal Testing
Every once in a while, animal experiments are so ethically egregious that they expose the larger moral contradictions in the industry. These experiments, while shocking and certainly difficult to hear about, show that animal experiments are built on a foundation that is contradictory at best. At worst, the research intentionally ignores ethics to generate data.
This study, looking specifically at mice who had their “Bax gene” removed or “knocked out.” Since scientists believe the Bax gene is related to the regulation of tumors, they are studying how removing the gene affects “Bax KO” mice. While previous studies have shown that Bax KO mice “have learning deficits, altered socio-sexual behaviors, increased anxiety, as well as disrupted defensive behavior,” in this case the scientists are trying to understand how Bax KO mice show “spontaneous locomotor activity or depression-like behaviors.”
Setting aside the relevance of the research question, the actual experimental procedures themselves are hard to stomach. The researchers used an “open field test” – which actually takes place in a laboratory cage – and a “forced swimming test,” which involved placing the mice in a container of water for five minutes and recording their movements while they try to swim. While Bax KO mice tended to show higher mobility in the open field test, the mice would spontaneously “freeze up” in the swim test. This immobile state was “interpreted (by the scientists) as a passive stress-coping strategy or evidence of behavioral despair – the loss of hope of escaping from an unpleasant environment.” Even after identifying despair / depressive behaviour, the scientists continued the test.
For animal advocates, this test shows that some scientists are willing to acknowledge that mice express certain emotional states – depression, despair, and so forth. Unfortunately, in this case, those scientists do not deem it necessary to mitigate such distress in their experiments. Indeed, this test seems to show that some scientists appear to be perfectly comfortable inducing those negative states in mice. For animal advocates, this type of information can be hard to read, but it shows that mice are capable of a wide range of emotions. It also shows how callous animal testing can be.