Tag Archive | "human-like traits"

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PETA: Principles Proved Prophetic

Posted on 29 November 2012 by Jerry

Since 1980, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has been dedicated to protecting and expanding animal rights.  Scientists once felt animals did not have the same intellect or emotions as humans, that pain was not felt as acutely and that animals had no higher emotions.  PETA always disagreed.  Over the last thirty years scientists have moved closer to PETA and now agree with Charles Darwin that “There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties…The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”

We now know some animals have many capabilities beyond what was once imagined such as self awareness, feelings of sadness, a highly developed sense of fairness, recognition of human faces, etc.  And these capabilities extend beyond mammals to selected species of birds such as corvids.  This knowledge only reinforces PETA’s views that we should ban any and all further laboratory testing using animal species.  There is considerable evidence that testing of drugs and other therapies can be accomplished satisfactorily without use of animal subjects.

PETA’s campaigns continue.  While they are sometimes criticized for their methods, there is no argument about their accomplishments.  In an earlier article on this blog dated April 6, 2012 entitled “Persistent PETA Presses to End Primate Experimentation” it was reported that PETA had succeeded in convincing international airline transport carriers, specifically China Southern Airlines and Air Canada, to halt any further international shipments of animals destined for experimentation.

In a further update to this PETA program, the organization announced they had secured the agreement of the world’s two largest air cargo carriers, UPS and FedEx, to no longer transport mammals for laboratory use.  In addition, UPS pledged to further restrict the transport of amphibians, fish, insects and other non-mammals.  While the two carriers were not transporting many of these animals, PETA was pleased by their agreement and stated, “We felt it was crucial to go to them and discuss this as we knew that facilities trying to send non-human primates and other species would be going to them soon, as more and more passenger airlines refused to do business with them.”

On another front, PETA demanded that the University of California San Francisco return a $2.1 million grant it had received from the National Institutes of Health for violating NIH’s lab animal welfare policies.  Citing NIH reports released that document UCSF’s recent failures and $92,500 of fines UCSF paid over the years to settle federal complaints it had violated the Animal Welfare Act, PETA spokesman Justin Goodman said “There are thousands of animals suffering every day, and on top of that, you have UCSF failing to provide many of them adequate veterinary care when they are sick.” UCSF is known to have one of the largest research programs in the U.S. using hundreds of thousands of animals in its lab research.

Use the following links for more information:

http://www.nature.com/news/lab-animal-flights-squeezed-1.11433

http://www.peta.org/b/thepetafiles/archive/2012/10/24/feds-demand-refund-from-UCSF-abusers.aspx

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2238906/horrific-animal-cruelty-exposed-UCSF-PETA-demands-2-1-million-research-grant-returned-petra-monkey-left-suffer-years- meds.html

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What Makes a Brilliant Mammal?

Posted on 21 July 2012 by Jerry

Before the decoding of the genetic content of animal chromosomes, if we wanted to investigate why some animals are more intelligent than others, there were only a few things we could do.  We could observe and test animal behavior under a variety of circumstances.  This might identify which animals are smarter than others.  Then to determine why they are smarter we might surgically dissect them to see if there are physical differences that might explain their enhanced intelligence.

This is exactly what was done in the past.  Through the use of the mirror and mark tests, we identified four mammals (human beings, great apes not including gorillas, bottle nose dolphins, and Asian elephants) that were thought to have greater intelligence and had achieved self recognition.  Upon dissecting and analyzing their brains it was found they each had a highly developed right prefrontal cortex when compared to other animals.  This was assumed to be the origin of their self recognition and enhanced intelligence.  It was also thought to be the reason for their heightened self evaluation, episodic (autobiographical) memory, introspection, humor and empathy.

Today’s geneticists are pioneering the newest methodology.  They compare the decoded genomes of a variety of large brained animals with highly developed cognitive abilities to see if they can determine the genetic roots of the size of their brains and their superior intelligence.  The results of a recent study comparing the genomes of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) with nine other mammals, has shown remarkable genetic similarity among “intelligent” species including primates and elephants.

Although the research, reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in the U.K. on June 26, 2012, is still a work-in-progress, it has helped the researchers identify 228 genes that are potentially under positive selection within the dolphin lineage.  This means these genes are becoming more common in the population of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) due to natural selection.  It can also be demonstrated that the overall substitution rate of one base for another inside these genes, in other words the rate of genetic change, has slowed compared to other mammals in the study.  This substitution has slowed to be within the range shown in primates and elephants.  At this point the hypothesis of the study is that the identified 228 genes demonstrate the parallel molecular direction of cetaceans with other mammals possessing large brains.

The study entitled “Dolphin genome provides evidence for adaptive evolution of nervous system genes and a molecular rate slowdown” by Messrs. Michael R. McGowen, Lawrence I. Grossman, and Derek E. Wildman observes that “One aspect of cetacean biology that is striking is the relative size and complexity of the brain, especially in toothed whales (odontocetes).  Similar to anthropoid primates, odontocetes have evolved brains that are larger than expected for their body size….relative brain size….such as in the bottlenose dolphin is greater than in all non-human primates, and sperm whales possess the largest brains in absolute terms.”

This type of research shows great promise for our eventual understanding of the evolution of intelligence.  It also will identify the genetic basis of human evolution that allowed us to become the dominant species on our planet.  It may also one day help us to understand how to insure normal human development or reverse the negative genetic anomalies that cause much hardship for some human beings.

Use the following links to obtain more information on these topics.  I have included an article on the bird species, corvids, because even though we do not understand the avian brain they have shown development of self recognition, hence the use of the picture of a crow in the blog to introduce evolutionary subjects.

http://www.pnas.org/content/98/10/5937.full?sid=ec83b504-9962-4b0d-83f5-e737adf45b7f

http://www.pnas.org/content/103/45/17053.full?sid=466e60df-243c-4d45-a802-ca1905d4ab20

http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3adoi%2f10.1371%2fjournal.pbio.0060201

http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3adoi%2f10.1371%2fjournal.pbio.0060202

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/07/18/rspb.2012.0869.abstract

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Altruism – Empathy Likely Biologically Universal

Posted on 31 January 2012 by Jerry

There have been countless scientific articles written documenting experiments which show all manner of empathy, altruism, and cooperation between higher mammals and especially those with highly developed prefrontal cortices.  This behavior has been repeatedly identified in human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, bottlenose dolphins, and elephants.  More broadly it has also been seen in the behavior of the more developed mammals.

But what about the lowly, lesser forms of animals, are they indifferent to each other?  Are they nothing but dumb brutes competing with peers for survival with no sensitivity to each other’s plight?  Researchers Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety, and Peggy Mason at the University of Chicago conducted a series of experiments that indicate that even with rats there is empathy and reaction to each other’s distress.  Their experiments led them to conclude there was strong evidence for “biological roots of empathically motivated helping behavior”.

When there was a free rat in an arena with another rat that was confined by a restrainer, the “free rat learned to intentionally and quickly open the restrainer and free the cagemate.”  The free rat performed this release even when social contact between the animals was prevented and when an alternative access to chocolate was offered as a distraction to freeing the confined animal.  In the case of the chocolate within a different restrainer, the free rat “opened both restrainers and typically shared the chocolate.”

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time: The Human Odyssey, Chapter 6 – Human Uniqueness, the book quotes and affirms Charles Darwin who said, “There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties…The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not kind.”  This set of experiments indicates we should expand Darwin’s observation to include the lesser animals as well.

Use the following link to access the study results in Science Magazine:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6061/1427.abstract

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NIH Moves Chimps from Chumps to Champs

Posted on 15 December 2011 by Jerry

The National Institute of Health, responding to pressure from animal rights groups, asked the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council to formulate a recommendation on continued use of chimpanzees in NIH funded invasive medical research in the U.S. Today their report was issued.  While not calling for an outright ban of the practice, the committee report signals to all involved in this type of research that they should wrap up present projects and plan to use other research methodologies in the future.

To send this signal, the committee recommended Guiding Principles that included “The animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments or in natural habitats.”  Webster’s defines ethology as the scientific and objective study of animal behavior especially under natural conditions.  This principle precludes the common research facility today which keeps the chimpanzees in cages.

Another guiding principal was that “There must be no other research model by which the knowledge could be obtained, and the research cannot be ethically performed on human subjects.”  On this last point the committee looked at a number of case studies.  Other than research that is already underway where benefits would be significantly delayed, they could not find research projects that could not be performed in other acceptable ways.

Our article in August 2011, Too Sentient for Their Own Good, raised the issue of use of chimpanzees in invasive medical research in the U.S.  That article pointed out that only two countries in the world still permit this kind of research on chimpanzees, the United States of America and Gabon in Africa. The rest of the world has banned invasive experimentation with many countries not allowing chimpanzees to be used in any research i.e. the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.  The article also identified that great apes (other than gorillas) are one of only three mammals, other than humans, who have sufficient intelligence to demonstrate self recognition.

We congratulate those animal rights groups that have intervened on behalf of chimpanzees and their humane treatment.  Kudos to the National Anti-Vivisection Society, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and the Humane Society of the United States. This is clearly their victory. Kudos also deserved by GlaxoSmithKline, a drug company that has an official policy ending its use of great apes, including chimpanzees, in its research.

Use the following link for more information:

http://iom.edu/Reports/2011/Chimpanzees-in-Biomedical-and-Behavioral-Research-Assessing-the-Necessity.aspx

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Panels Look at Genetic Engineering of “Chimeras” in UK and Germany

Posted on 06 November 2011 by Jerry

When you create an animal combining genetic material from a human being and from a non-human animal species, it is known as a Human-Animal Chimera.  The word Chimera (ki-meer-uh) came from the name of a mythical Greek fire-breathing she-monster having a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail.  When two of the world’s most advanced nations, within a few months of each other (in July and September 2011), issue panel study results considering the ethics of a specific type of experiment you know something has likely begun which the governments are attempting to catch up to.  Such is the case with the experimental creation of human-animal transgenic organisms.  Transgenic refers to taking an organism or cells from one species and incorporating the cells or genes from another species into it making the resulting animal “transgenic”.

In fairness, these panels responded to new rules issued by the European Union last year requiring countries to establish national ethics boards to oversee animal research.  This of course does not reduce the importance of the panels.  A September 27, 2011 article in Science Magazine by Gretchen Vogel compares the two reports, from Germany and the UK, saying about the German report “The report’s philosophical slant – it cites Aristotle, Kant, Hans Jonas, and others – gives it a slightly different flavor from one issued by the British Academy of Medical Sciences in July.  That report came to similar conclusions but based its recommendations on what the panel thought the British public would find objectionable.”

Supportive of this last point, apparently some scientists were not concerned about the morality of various experiments but rather the public’s reaction to them.  Geneticist Martin Bobrow of the University of Cambridge who chaired the academy’s working group is quoted as saying, “We are trying to get this issue out there before anything has happened.  If the public has heard about something, they are less likely to get irritable when something does hit the headlines.” His statements seem to label the U.K. national ethics panel as more of a damage control function than moral watchdog.

The following describe the recommendations of the two panels regarding Animals Containing Human Material (ACHM):

United Kingdom:

The report recommends three categories for classification of experiments involving ACHM.  The first is experiments that should be subject to the same oversight and regulation as other animal experiments.  The second category is experiments that should receive extra review before obtaining permission to proceed.  Last is a category of experiments that should be entirely off limits.  The following are examples of experiments that fall into the second and third categories.

Category

2.  Those that modify an animal’s brain to make it more “human-like”

2.  Those that place functional human germ cells in animals

2.  Experiments that could make animals’ appearance or behavior more human

2.  Those that add human genes or cells to nonhuman primates

3.  Breeding animals that have or could develop human germ cells in their gonads

3.  Those that attempt to transplant enough human-derived neural cells into a nonhuman primate

to prompt human-like behavior

3.  Those that allow embryos that mix human and nonhuman primate cells to develop beyond 14

days.

Notes:

a)      Embryos that are “predominately animal,” but still contain human cells are unregulated in the United Kingdom.  The report recommends closing that loophole.

b)      The germ line of a mature or developing individual is the line or sequence of germ cells that have genetic material that can be passed to a child.


Germany:

Germany did not recommend categories for experimentation.  Using the British categories however, the following are experiments which either require further review and permission to proceed (category 2) or should be banned entirely (category three).

Category

2.  Those that make transgenic monkeys with human genes

2.  Those that put human brain cells into animals (These need better methods to measure the

effects of such cells on recipients’ behavior)

3.  Introducing animal material into the human germ line

3.  Those that would lead to the development of human sperm or eggs in an animal

3.  Implanting an animal embryo into a human

These panel reports should be cause for concern about these burgeoning sciences.  If these are the experiments that two major developed and mature nations are publicly concerned with and talking about, what are all the other counties of the world doing.  The fact that reports recommend that certain experiments be banned entirely should be interpreted to acknowledge that the capability to conduct them exists and that they are not banned today.  We could assume these experiments and others are being conducted around the world.  This is a chilling thought.

 

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, Chapter 13: Protect Life Imperative – Synthetic Biology discusses the science of genetic engineering as having discovered the means to compromise or bypass life’s natural and evolved defenses.  Beyond Animal, Ego and Time states “What is happening in synthetic biology and to a large extent with genetic engineering is thousands of people are pursuing a genetic land rush by staking claims to own the genetics of life.”

The public conclusions of the scientific panels of the UK and Germany should give us a small window into what is happening in genetic engineering or, at a minimum, what is possible

Use the following links for more information:

http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/09/german-ethics-council-weighs-in-.html

http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/07mice-with-human-brain-cells-more.html

http://www.acmedsci.ac.uk/p47prid77.html (select Report Synopsis)

November 4, 2011, San Francisco, Genetic Engineering

 

 

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