When it comes to animals and research, it's best to stay away from the subject since most of the time it's incredibly depressing. However, animal research has given us some fantastic breakthroughs and cool stories. Let's take the time to honor ten of our furry, feathery, and slimy lab assistants.
For a long time, pigeons were hanging around cities eating old french fries and spreading disease. Then psychologist B.F. Skinner put them to work. By isolating them in a box, which he modestly called a Skinner Box, and subjecting to various stimuli like food pellets or changes in lighting, he developed a controlled approach to psychological experimentation.
Mice have been good enough to help people out with everything from cures for baldness to learning techniques. They're used so often, in so many capacities that Douglas Adams famously cast them as the uber-villains in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, manipulating humanity by controlling the results for psychological testing. It's true that the use of mice and rats in experiments is a little sad, since these experiments generally end with someone taking a look at the mouse's brain, but consider it payback for the Black Plague.
Like mice, these fish are known most for their bulk contribution to science, instead of any particular achievement. Their two main strengths are having a spine and keeping their nice clear eggs on the outside of their bodies while the eggs develop. This gives scientists an unobstructed view into the embryonic development of vertebrates.
Again, we're verging dangerously on the sad here, but let's take a look at some of the least depressing achievments of dogs. They started off strong, helping Ivan Pavlov discover the conditioned reflex. Pavlov rang a bell, or sounded a whistle, or started up a tuning fork, every time he fed his dogs, and noticed them slobber all over themselves in their desire to eat. After some time, the dogs slobbered even without the food, just hearing the bell. Pavlov learned an important behavior - bells make people want to spit. Or something. He's best known for that. Dogs, however, moved on, to outer space in the Russian space program. Nowadays, certain dogs, like doberman, have been found to be prone to narcolepsy. Scientists study them to understand the disorder.
6. Nematode Worm
The nematode worm is kind of the Paris Hilton of the animal research world. It's known for being known. It has three hundred and two neurons and all of them are mapped out. Even if something unexpected happened inside the worm, researchers would be able to see, because it's transparent. Recent experiments done on nematodes include engineering its neurons so they fire when exposed to light and making it dance for the researchers' amusement.
Spiders aren't really that impressive research subjects. They're creepy, not closely related to humans, and don't have many behaviors that are replicated by other species. They did, however, make one spectacular contribution to science. They were given drugs, and then forced to make webs. Cocaine, LSD, pot, and caffeine were all given to spiders. (I'm not sure how. Tiny joints? Tiny straws and exposure to eighties movies?) The webs that they made were then photographed. There's no clear reason for why, but I suppose scientists have to have some fun.
4. E. Coli
These little guys are the factories of research. They're basically soulless, empty hosts that can be injected with other, more useful, genes. Escherichia coli have been used to manufacture vaccines, enzymes, and human insulin.
Chimpanzees are used for depressing genetic and medical research, but they're more noted for their even-more-depressing behavioral research. Since they're some of the closest family humans have, they're observed to see the uninhibited, early side of human nature. Turns out that we're jerks. Chimpanzees kill, rape, have organized raiding parties and sustained border wars, are violently status-conscious, pretty misogynistic, and have been known to literally kill, rip apart, and eat their young. They are awful, awful creatures, and the world would be better off without them, but they have set the bar low for us. If you manage to be better than a chimp, then you look like a pretty good example of humanity.
Jellyfish look pretty when they're backlit in an aquarium. Any other time they're pretty much just sea snot that can hurt you. But one particular type of jellyfish, Aequoria Victoria, has contributed greatly to research. It has given the world green flourescent protein, or GFP. GFP glows green when light shines on it. When biologists want to check out the movement of certain proteins around a cell or a body, they attach GFP to them. The flourescence lets them track whatever they want to track. It's also made glowing E. coli, glowing worms, and glowing pigs.
1. Fruit Flies
Give it up for the flies that live fast, breed hard, and die young. Drosophila melanogaster eggs take 12 hours to hatch, and can become sexually mature in a week. These guys thrive under lab conditions, produce hundreds of offspring, partially because they mate like crazy. Because they grow up fast, they can be used to track genetic legacies through several generations in a month. They also share many human diseases and cellular processes. They've been studied in labs for almost a hundred years, and the research is still going strong. At this point, they've aided in so many discoveries they should be born with PhD's.