• Question: You said that you work with bacteria which a lot of chickens carry. Do you ever harm chickens in your work?

    Asked by dysprosium to Emma on 26 Jun 2012. This question was also asked by 09heptinstalll.
    • Photo: Emma Trantham

      Emma Trantham answered on 26 Jun 2012:

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply but you’re asking a very good question and I wanted to make sure I could give it the attention it deserves.

      Yes I do infect chickens with the bacteria I work with. This particular bacteria, Campylobacter jejuni, is currently not thought to cause any harm to chickens (they carry it in their guts without getting ill). None of my chickens have ever got sick with it. However, at the end of the experiment we do have to kill the chickens – they are put down with an overdose of anaesthetic, the same way they would be if they are pet chickens. This allows us to then collect the samples we need. (Even if we didn’t need to collect samples, the rules of our experimental licence say we must kill the birds as we cannot rehome birds infected with a human disease.)

      Speaking more generally, I support experiments on animals to help us find what causes human diseases and how we can treat them so long as for any individual experiment the following things are true:
      1) It must be the best or only way to find something out about the disease/treatment
      2) The experiment must follow all of the Home Office guidance. (The Home Office has a very strict set of rules which animal experiments can be performed under. The aim of the rules is to keep animal welfare as good as it possibly can be in the circumstances.)
      3) The experimenters have followed the ‘3 Rs’ of animal research:
      a. Reduction – reduce the number of animals so only the minimum are used
      b. Replacement – replace animals with non-animal techniques wherever possible
      c. Refinement – improve (‘refine’) the experiments so that the animals suffer as little as possible (this might include making changes to their cages so they have extra beds they can hide in and other changes like that)

      In my experience the people who do experiment on animals care a lot about those animals – I know I certainly care a lot about my chickens and get sad when I reach the end of an experiment.

      Animal research is an issue that lots of people disagree about. If you want to learn more about why animals are used in research http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/schoolzone/ is a really good place to go and it’s aimed at students like you.

      If you have any other questions on the topic, please do ask them. I know I asked lots of questions about it before coming to my views…