Trauma From Vivisection Gets Passed Down Through Generations
Vivisection is a tremendously damaging practice: not only are animals subjected to traumatic scientific procedures, but the conditions of their confinement are often barren and cruel. Animals used for research are sometimes captured violently from the wild and shipped to research labs. Indeed, many articles have been written about the trauma inherent in vivisection, and there is even a feature-length documentary dedicated to the subject. Now, scientists have found evidence (through animal experiments) that the trauma of vivisection goes beyond the animals directly involved. The trauma may actually go as deep as their RNA, which means it could be passed down to future generations. In more technical language, “traumatic stress in early life altered mouse microRNA (miRNA) expression and behavioral and metabolic responses in the progeny.”
This study, like many animal experiments, is not for the faint-hearted. After examining adult mice under “normal conditions,” the researchers used a “mouse model of unpredictable maternal separation (MSUS) combined with unpredictable maternal stress” to test a control group of mice. Their reasoning? Disease risk and heritability are affected by genetics, but environmental factors, “particularly adverse and traumatic experiences in early life, are also critical.” The idea is that the MSUS mice would show a difference in certain behaviours associated with the trauma that they had experienced. From there, they “tested the causal link between sperm RNAs and the effects of MSUS across generations by microinjecting RNAs purified from sperm from MSUS males into wild-type fertilized mouse oocytes.” In other words, through invasive means, they transferred elements of RNA from these traumatized mice to another generation of mice and described the results.
Researchers then subjected the mice to certain tests. In a light-dark box test, the mice spent more time in the bright compartment; in a swim test, they floated longer than the control group, and they also noted differences in insulin levels that correlate with increased stress. The behavior exhibited by this second generation of mice indicate that there are similar effects for mice who are exposed to MSUS directly and those injected with sperm RNA from MSUS-exposed males. The conclusion is important: “The offspring of MSUS-RNAinj mice also showed depressive-like behaviors, indicating transmission of the effects of injected sperm RNAs.” Overall, this experiment shows that “RNA-dependent processes” can be affected by trauma and that the trauma can be transmitted genetically to future generations.
Is this just one more example of the brutal practice of vivisection? For animal advocates, the paradox of animal research that shows the trauma of animal research becomes a tired trope, but there may be another way of assessing the situation. With each new study like this – such as the research showing that confined mice will help their cage mates free themselves from restraints – there is evidence that vivisection is engineering its own unresolvable ethics. This is not to say that studies like this will cause an awakening among animal experimenters, who will immediately stop doing what they’re doing. Rather, each new study like this one shows that the practice of vivisection itself is built on a disconnection between science and trauma. For anti-vivisection advocates, this type of data provides evidence in the fight against these very practices. It is an uncomfortable paradox, but one that animal advocates can’t afford to ignore.