Animals provide a fascinating area of study for scientists, and the practice of zoology has led to many critical discoveries in medicine and engineering. Our top five list of the most important of these discoveries is shown below.

1) How Nerves Work
Hodgkin and Huxley won a Nobel Prize in 1963 for the elucidation of the mechanism of the action potential in nerve cells. To do their groundbreaking work, Hodgkin and Huxley used the giant squid axon to investigate electrical current propagation when nerves are stimulated. They were even able to squeeze the cytoplasm out of the giant axon and replace it with another set of substances to investigate the role of different ions in the action potential.

2) How Cells Function
Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) is a protein originally found in the jellyfish Aequorea victoria. This protein fluoresces green under stimulation with ultraviolet light and maintains this characteristic fluorescence even when fused to another protein. This GFP-protein fusion in many cases is able to carry out an identical function to the original protein, so GFP can be engineered into an organism’s DNA in order to determine where a protein localizes in the organism, or inside individual cells. Many different GFP sequences have now been engineered, allowing a scientist to choose between colors for use in their experiments. This allows multiple proteins to be tagged at once, and their locations determined independently.

3) How We Learn
Psychologists have invented a memory game for Rhesus monkeys, showing that a great memory for shapes and objects is not something that is uniquely human. Memory can be divided into recollection and recall. Recollection is the ability to recognize an image, whereas recall is the ability to recreate an object from memory. Recognition is easily tested in monkeys, but recall is a bit more tricky. Scientists had a revolutionary idea to overcome this; they taught the monkeys to draw. Although they found that humans show a greater capacity for complex recall, Rhesus monkeys parallel us in simple recognition and recall of shapes. From this research, scientists are beginning to understand the origin and mysterious mechanism of memory in humans.


4) How To Survive Space Flight
A duck, a rooster, and a sheep were the first animals to participate in human-engineered flight. The Montgolfier brothers performed this experiment in 1783 to test the effects of high altitude on animals. The first animals in space were fruit flies, launched by the Americans in 1947 to test the effects of radiation on animals. Albert II became the first Rhesus monkey in space, launched by the Americans in 1949, and Russian dogs Tsygan and Dezik became the first two higher animals to survive a trip to space and back in the Soviet Union’s 1951 mission. These animals, whose vitals were meticulously recorded throughout the flights, provided proof that, with adequate protection, animals really could survive the harsh environment of space.

5) How To Transplant Organs
Scientists investigating transplant rejection in mice discovered that healthy mice reject skin grafts over a period of time, and even quicker the second time if the graft is taken from the same animal. Mice born without a thymus (the organ in which specialized immune cells known as T-cells develop during childhood) are deficient in cell-mediated immunity. These mice tolerate the foreign grafts indefinitely. Experiments on these mice demonstrated that graft rejection is an immune response, and allowed development of drugs to combat the problem of graft rejection in humans.

Without the fascinating research done on animals, science, technology, and medicine would have not progressed as far as they have today. Zoology is, therefore, a vital discipline for our study of the world around us, and our advancement of the medical sciences.

Colin is writing on behalf of medical equipment UK suppliers and manufacturers

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