PETA donation cuts dissection at UHV
March 16, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated March 16, 2014 at 10:17 p.m.
Biology students at the University of Houston-Victoria are trading in their scalpels for computer mice.
"I was looking for a humane way to include dissection in my lab that surveys the animal kingdom," wrote Athena Anderson, a professor of biology at UHV, in an email. "I don't know if the animals typically harvested for lab dissections are done so humanely, and I couldn't find any research or discussion of the issue."
Anderson secured a national education grant offered by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The nonprofit organization donated virtual dissection computer software, Froguts, to the university.
"Half of college-aged students - more than ever before - are opposed to animal testing," said Justin Goodman, PETA director of laboratory investigations. "Many students are upset by it, which makes it impossible for them to learn."
Froguts allows students to look inside frogs, sea stars, squids, fetal pigs and other animals without harming them, according to a news release.
The millions of animals used in classroom dissections come from biological supply houses, which breed them, or from animal shelters or the wild.
Initially, almost 30 UHV students are going to benefit from the software when it is introduced this month.
The technology eliminates problems with queasiness and foul odors, Anderson said in an email message.
Another benefit is that the university does not produce waste that contributes to landfill expansion.
"As for drawbacks, I think the biggest is that students don't get the benefits of touching and seeing actual organs and other tissues," Anderson said in a message. "Nothing compares to the real thing."
Grants were awarded based on applicants' intentions to completely replace animal dissection with virtual dissection rather than supplement the practice, Goodman said.
About 98 percent of medical schools in the U.S. do not use animals to train doctors in their laboratories, Goodman said. They use simulations that range from computer software to patient simulators that look, feel and act like human beings.
"If we can train surgeons without animal testing, I'm certain that biology students can learn without it," Goodman said.
Studies comparing actual and virtual dissection have shown that students learn faster and more proficiently with the virtual method, he said. Students also learn how the living body works through virtual dissection.
"Students can repeat the dissection virtually until they are confident and proficient," Goodman said. "It's more economical than purchasing dissection supplies for every student, and it saves teachers the time of setting up and cleaning up."
With the grant, PETA pays the first two annual Froguts licensing fees at $400 each, and UHV receives a discounted annual rate thereafter.
The license does not impose any limitations on use, and the university benefits from ongoing software updates and technical advancements.
PETA donates humane virtual dissection software to kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms, colleges and medical schools.