in Strasbourg, a practical exercise on hamsters arouses controversy

A building of the University of Strasbourg, September 19, 2022.

At the University of Strasbourg, the master’s degree in ecophysiology, ecology and ethology holds a special place. To listen to the dean of the faculty of life sciences, Jacky de Montigny, “Of all the courses we offer, this is clearly the most requested”. Defense of biodiversity, love of animals, dreams of an exotic nature, passion for experimental sciences: the reasons for joining are not lacking. “The students we select come from all over the region, sometimes beyond, and all are excellent”insists the microbiologist.

Except that, since the start of the school year, the elite team has faced a slingshot from some of its brilliant brains. Seven second-year master’s students, among the twenty-two registered, refused to take part in the practical ecophysiology work carried out on hamsters, in this first trimester, citing an ethical impossibility. Right in his boots, the head of the teaching unit announced the sentence: the mark of 0/20. Since then, the case has divided teachers and worried the administration. All agree, however, to see it as a sign of the times, that of increased sensitivity to the well-being of animals and the conditions of their use in the scientific context. .

The first lab, scheduled for September 8, consisted of placing a probe in the abdomen of the hamsters in order to be able to record the temperature continuously. “We had to shave and disinfect the animal, the TP manager made the incision, then we installed the sensor, we sewed up the flesh and placed the staples”says one of the students.

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Like her comrades, she hesitated a little before responding to the requests of the World. But, in the end, they decided to participate in a joint videoconference, asking to remain anonymous. Another continues: “Six weeks later, the hamsters are asphyxiated with CO2. We open them, we recover the probes to get the data, we weigh the testicles and we take the brown adipose tissue that we will analyze during two other TPs by doing PCR. But we didn’t do any of that: the teacher refused to let us continue if we hadn’t put in the probes. »

“3R” rule

To justify their gesture, none advance a principled opposition to animal experimentation. But they require the application of the cardinal principle in this matter, applied throughout the world, the rule of the three Rs. “which we were taught” : replace, reduce, refine. In other words, avoid using animals if it is not essential, limit their number, avoid their suffering. However, according to the students, killing one hamster per student is not justified by scientific considerations – “the same data was collected in previous years, what’s the point of sacrificing new animals” – or for educational purposes. “Except maybe to get us used to animal testing, grant one of them, but almost all of us want to be ethologists and study animals in their natural environment, disturbing them as little as possible. It does nothing for us. »

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