Craziest Cases of Animal Experimentation Throughout History
Animal experimentation, despite its substantial and well-earned controversy, has widely impacted modern medicine's understanding of physiology, genetics, and disease. In spite of these scientific gains, animal testing has also inspired some experiments many consider – even by the most conservative of estimates – to be unethical. Though scientists have developed alternatives to animal testing in recent history, doctors, researchers, and scientists alike have conducted plenty of ludicrous experiments on unsuspecting animals.
This list chronicles the most shocking and morally dubious of these animal-centric experiments. Although some – though certainly not all – of these incidents revealed what are now fundamental precepts of medicine, how these advances were made leave many, both in and out of the scientific community, conflicted.
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Cancer Researchers Made Frogs' Skin TransparentPhoto: Geoff Gallice / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0
To help further their insight into organ growth and tumor development, in 2007, Japanese cancer researchers at Hiroshima University actually bred transparent frogs. These frogs boasted internal organs that were completely visible through their skin.
Apparently, this innovation allows researchers to reduce the number of dissections they have to perform, since the frog's internal organs and blood vessels are all visible through their skin.
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Baby Jellyfish Were Ejected Into SpacePhoto: Unknown / PxHere / CC0 Public Domain
In 1991, Dr. Dorothy Spangenberg was studying the potential effects of zero-gravity on human fetuses. Since testing her research on actual fetuses would have assuredly crossed an ethical line, she and her team packed 2,478 baby jellyfish onto the Columbia space shuttle, ejected them into orbit, and watched for results. Initially, the jellyfish adapted well to the environment, and bred themselves up to a population of 60,000.
Sadly, back on Earth, the new jellyfish were found to have greater “pulsing abnormalities” than usual – a syndrome commonly known as “vertigo.” The experiment demonstrated that, hypothetically, humans born in space might experience mobility issues once they land on Earth, similar to the phenomenon of "sea legs," often experienced by seafarers immediately after returning to land.
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Injected Spiders Wove Spastic WebsPhoto: NASA / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
In 1995, a group of NASA scientists studied the effects of various intoxicants on the web-weaving abilities of spiders. Ostensibly, they sought to determine the relative toxicity levels of the substances by examining the webs they created after injection.
What followed was most likely confirmation of anticipated results: the spider on weed wove a decent web, albeit incomplete; the spider on a stimulant wove quickly and poorly; the spider on a hallucinogenic wove a scattered, inefficient web; and the web of the spider on caffeine was off-center and asymmetrical.
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A Monkey's Head Was Transplanted To Another BodyPhoto: Charles J Sharp / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
American researcher Robert White performed the world's first successful monkey-head transplant in the early 1970s. In a carefully-choreographed operation, White removed a monkey's head from its body and placed it on a headless specimen. Astonishingly, the monkey awoke and tried to bite one of the surgeons. The transplant recipient survived nine days before passing.
In 2016, neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero successfully performed a monkey-head transplant. Canavero was already well-known at the time for attempting a human-head transplant in 2015.
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Cartilage Cells Grew A Human Ear On A Mouse's BackVideo: YouTube
Nicknamed the “Vacanti mouse” for the project's lead scientist, this mouse was seeded with cow cartilage cells that had been molded into an ear shape. The result of this 1997 experiment was a disproportionate, human-ear-shaped growth on the mouse's back.
The growth was eventually removed, and the mouse went on to live a "happy, normal life." The purpose of the study, though sensationalistic at first glance, was to improve reconstructive plastic surgery techniques.
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A Chimpanzee Was Raised Like A Human ChildVideo: YouTube
While there are many accounts of children raised by animals, in 1931, psychologist Winthrop Kellogg speculated what would happen if an animal was brought up by humans to behave as a human. Kellogg brought a baby female chimpanzee named Gua into his home and raised her as if she were human, giving her the same care as their infant son, Donald. Donald and Gua were siblings in every sense except species classification. They played together, ate together, and took the same developmental tests.
While Gua performed well on the tests, she couldn’t acquire language skills – and impaired Donald’s development in the process. The Kelloggs ended the experiment after nine months, possibly because baby Donald began imitating the Gua's chimp noises. Gua was released into an animal colony, but passed only months after she left the family's home.