Transparent frogs may cut down on dissections in classes

In this undated photo released Oct. 1 by Hiroshima University Institute for Amphibian Biology, a transparent frog successfully bred by a team of Japanese scientists at the institute in Higashi, Hiroshima is shown. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

AP

In this undated photo released Oct. 1 by Hiroshima University Institute for Amphibian Biology, a transparent frog successfully bred by a team of Japanese scientists at the institute in Higashi, Hiroshima is shown. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

By Hannah Hess

Slimy biology lessons involving the slicing and dicing of tiny green amphibians are a gross memory for most students.

“When you cut the frog open, some of the liquid formaldehyde they had been soaking in came oozing out,” remembered Brendon Frye, sophomore, who now studies less gory subjects in Business.

Traumatizing experiences in science labs similar to Frye’s may no longer be necessary thanks to a recent breakthrough in Japan. Scientists produced pale-skinned frogs whose internal organs are completely visible.

The “transparent” frog is the result of a carefully bred recessive mutation and will enable studies of internal development from tadpole to maturity. If the use of transparent frogs is successful, it could significantly cut down on the number of dissections necessary for research.

More humane research is a common concern in the realm of scientific controversy.

“Over the years it has become evident that students are uncomfortable with it, so we have basically phased out the dissection of frogs in the classroom,” said Fred Delcomyn, director of Integrated Biology.

Protest from student groups, most directly Students Improving the Lives of Animals, a Registered Student Organization, triggered policy change.

In the spring of 2003, SILA worked with the Illinois Student Senate to pass a set of guidelines that provided alternatives for students who object to the procedure. According to the organization’s Web site, accommodations for individuals whose “religious or ethical beliefs directly conflict with the act of dissection” are to be available in all classes with such curricula. Following the resolution, general education courses adopted substitutions to slicing preserved specimen. Delcomyn said learning with models is now more standard.

Lauren Realmuto, sophomore in LAS, has plenty of familiarity with hands-on research from her high school days. She has carved up a fetal pig, a crawfish, a starfish, a sheep’s heart and a cow’s eye.

She believes dissection is necessary in fields like physiology, medicine and kinesiology and said studying transparent frogs could not provide the same caliber of education. “I think it’s necessary to have experience in invasive procedure.”

The Japan team hopes the clear-skinned amphibians will be useful in research settings. Studies of the progression of diseases, such as cancer, in the frog could lead to new developments. Breakthroughs in chemical and toxin understanding could also be on the horizon.

Alanna Elinoff, sophomore in LAS, sees how the new breed of amphibians could be relevant in a traditional classroom setting. “It might be beneficial to study a live transparent frog and observe the systems of its body at work,” she said.

Elinoff also sees how the discovery could satisfy animal rights activists, but she says she objects to the genetic altering of the species. During a seventh-grade dissection she remembered thinking, “Here is this animal that died of natural causes and was then preserved, so the process isn’t really inhumane.”

Transparent frogs are unlikely to be hopping around middle school seventh-grade classrooms in the United States any time soon, so students will still don goggles and gloves. Armed with scalpels, dissectors will get intellectually stimulating, if slightly traumatizing, experience.

Reflecting on her own froggy encounter, Elinoff said, “There was a gross-out factor; however, I really thought it was fascinating.”