Destination Chromosome

As a biology teacher part of my job is to “perform” dissections. I use the word perform because it is indeed a performance. Standing centre stage with curious fun-loving young audience having  fun every time I draw a parallel between the specimen in my hand and the diagram in their textbooks.

I remember my first mammalian dissection – a mouse. A tiny white furry thing growing in our lab, along with several others. It was in this cage that was made of a wire mesh. We used to feed it with carrots and other tidbits. And then one day we had to dissect it. I still remember the wave of nausea that clenched my gut. We opened the cage, and one escaped.  We ran around – half of us trying to escape from its scurrying across our feet, and a couple of them trying to actually catch it.  When we finally did catch it, we put it into a glass jar along with a cotton ball dipped in chloroform. When all forms of visible movements in the body came to a halt, we took it onto the dissection tray, pinned it onto the wax and slit through its body. It then shuddered, its blood spilled all over, and the nausea in my gut grew even more. Two hours of pulling and prodding -we finally took out the bone, extracted the marrow- all we wanted were the cells in them to observe chromosomes. Two days of experimentation and we finally saw them- the chromosomes of Mus musculus. All feelings of nausea and revulsion were lost.  The exhilaration I felt at that point was beyond description. It was the first time I was seeing animal chromosomes. And at that moment it was all worth it.

Later of course we were informed that what we observed weren’t chromosomes at all. It was bacteria- our sample was contaminated. Our procedure was all wrong.  Whatever the case, the process emboldened me. I am now able to dissect any animal with steady hands.

But even if I can, I am not a huge fan of dissections. It is immoral I agree, but absolutely inevitable, if one wants to understand the working of a biological system – A necessary Evil!
Why necessary- you would know if the medical system has ever been able to save you or someone you loved, at a time of need. The knowledge of the doctor who treated the condition or the medicines that we devoured during those days, all comes from extensive research. Research that involved dissecting animals, using them as laboratory guinea pigs, and sacrificing their lives to enhance our understanding. Does the cause justify the means?  I am not one to comment. But I do know for a fact that if I were to choose between my life and that of a couple of mice- I would choose mine.

Today we have animal rights activists overplaying rather than being reasonable. Would these people agree to be the first to try a newly developed cancer drug on them – never tested on any animal? I wonder for all their concern should the entire discipline of medical research be discontinued for lack of testing. I have no answers, but for those who agree that no learning is complete without hands on practical experience I must say the same is true for biology too.

P.S. We did not give up on those mouse chromosomes. We had to sacrifice around 3-4 of them before we finally saw those chromosomes. Trust me. It was all worth it!

– Savitha Sekhar

Associate Specialist


5 thoughts on “Destination Chromosome

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  1. Hi Just to add a small point. Animal rights groups are against killing of animals and they will continue to oppose it. What I believe is that, they are just a very small minority among the middle classes. Overwhelming majority of the middle class people (that can account to 150-200 million people in India) are in favour of science and technology. I have no doubt about that. I have never seen any rural people demonstrating against the use of animals for research. The government of India is quadrupulating the funding for science and research in the 12th 5 year plan. So, you see what I mean. It is unlikely that government will support animal rights groups. Science and technology is the only way left to India to progress inclusively in the future. Animal rights groups will be always present but their influence would be less than significant.




    1. Dear Prashanth,
      We do understand your point on using better practices and discouraging schools and colleges from resorting to animal dissections when easier and simpler methods are available. It is definitely necessary to create awareness amongst educators about this. Surely, the minority of animal rights groups will be overshadowed by the majority of citizens and the government in favour of progress in Science and Technology.

      Your insights are indeed valuable. Thanks for taking the time.


  2. Thanks for the reply. My point is that if cell lines were not available then just take out few cells from the mouse without having to sacrifice it. Its very easy. My bigger point is that if schools are following this practice then they should be advised against doing that.

    Dissections should be done to demonstrate to students the internal organs. Isolation of chromosomes can be done on plants. Its just better practice.

    Thanks again



  3. Hello Brain stars,
    Nice article portraying a personal experience . I would just like to point out that dissections should be carried out, for example, to demonstrate to students the internal organs. If isolating chromosome was the only goal then it would have been better to isolate it from cells which are cultured in the lab. There are many kinds of mouse cell lines grown in laboratories across the country.

    The ethics behind killing an animal to meet human ends is a very philosophical question. This world has become a human world where we see animals as inferior beings. In the end the world is what it is. However, following restraint as much as possible is the right way to go. Animal experiments are necessary but excercising highest ethical standards is also utmost necessary. If a lab uses mouse as a model system to understand human cancer then there is no other way. These labs do need to judje their experiments and proceed cautiously and expediently. Unnecessary wastage of animal experiments should be avoided. For example, if a question can be addressed in a simple way using a cell culture model then it should be tried first before testing in the mouse.

    Animal rights groups are part of our society. In a democracy we will always have them. Scientists just need to explain the justification better.

    Best wishes


    1. Dear Prashanth,

      Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comment. We do agree that ethics of killing animals is a philosophical question. We also second your point about exercising the highest ethical standards while performing animal experiments. However the author’s experience stems from her college days where cell lines were not available to her. She extends that experience to justify animal experiments in medical research where they are extremely necessary.


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