UG biologist goes to court to enforce animal testing

A young jackdaw being measured. Photo by Reyer Boxem

UG biologist goes to court to enforce animal testing

By banning an experiment with wild jackdaws, the Central Committee on Animal Testing is blocking an important line of research, says UG biologist Simon Verhulst. On Tuesday, he went to court to resolve the issue.
25 November om 11:47 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 25 November 2020
om 11:53 uur.
November 25 at 11:47 AM.
Last modified on November 25, 2020
at 11:53 AM.

Door Christien Boomsma

25 November om 11:47 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 25 November 2020
om 11:53 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

November 25 at 11:47 AM.
Last modified on November 25, 2020
at 11:53 AM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur Volledig bio » Background coordinator and science editor Full bio »

Verhulst submitted his application for an experiment involving sixty wild jackdaws back in 2016. He wants to inject young birds with the IGF-1 growth hormone. He would then check if the increased growth rate negatively affects the birds’ health, by measuring their telomeres. ‘But the Central Committee on Animal Testing says this isn’t allowed on wild animals.’

Telomeres serve as a kind of ‘protective cap’ on the end of chromosomes. Verhulst has been studying them for years. Telomeres grow shorter as an organism ages, and people and birds with short telomeres are more likely to die. ‘This research is increasingly important’, says Verhulst. ‘We just submitted a paper that proves that short telomeres correlate to more severe corona symptoms. Jackdaws are the best animal to use for research like this.’

Simulate

By banning experiments like this, the Central Committee on Animal Testing (CCD) is blocking an entire line of research, says Verhulst. And he’s yet to hear a good reason for the ban. ‘I want to know it there’s a trade-off between health and an increased growth rate’, he says. ‘But I can only do that if the birds are also being challenged by food shortage, cold, or parasites. Those circumstances don’t exist in a lab, and we can’t simulate them.’

The CCD’s assessors, he says, have a background in biomedical research, which has a different research culture. The CCD representative even mentioned two different ‘schools of thought’, Verhulst says. ‘She suggested that she, or perhaps even the entire CCD, represented one of those schools.’ They want research environments to be as consistent as possible. ‘But that means you can’t generalise research results. I can’t make them understand that.’

Capture

 The CCD is also against doing tests on wild animals. Interestingly enough, they are fine with capturing wild animals, running experiments in the lab, and then killing them. ‘A colleague of mine recently did that.’

Verhulst also says that jackdaws aren’t so important that they should be left alone. ‘A jackdaw’s intrinsic value to society is less than zero. It’s considered a pest and people are always allowed to shoot it.’

He expects a judge to agree with his reasoning, which means the CCD would have to re-evaluate his application. But he’s not sure that will be the end of it. ‘I’m ready to take this all the way to the Council of State.’

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