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CORDIS Express: Why science and animals need each other

This week’s edition of Express sheds light on the important role played by animals at all stages of the scientific research process.

In popular imagination science is often synonymous of labs, artificial experiments and exciting new technologies all rooted in human inventiveness. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. In reality, most scientific findings are inspired by or focused on nature – be it natural phenomena, plants or animals. This week, Express will focus on the latter. Animals’ impact on science is overwhelming, and it can be observed at all stages of the scientific process. The first one is observation and analysis: animals’ behaviour and capacity to adapt to their environment has been inspiring European researchers for centuries. Lately, this has translated for example in an project looking into the mechanisms behind animals dazzling patterns’ capacity to put off predators, or an expedition observing corals’ response to climate change. But sometimes the analysis of animal-derived products, such as pig manure, can also be key to advances in sectors as varied as energy and fertilisers. Then come animals’ biological similarities with humans, which have made them key to testing the efficacy of new and potentially game-changing drugs. This week, this contribution is illustrated with a project developing a novel drug to treat infant blindness whose completion wouldn’t be possible without testing on animal models, and a collaborative effort aiming to advance multiple sclerosis research by studying zebrafish. These benefits and others – like our reliance on certain animals such as pollinators to feed a growing world population while avoiding to damage our environment – are enough to explain why industry, scientists and governments are willing to invest time, money and energy on improving animal condition and productivity. Under FP7, such initiatives include a project to alleviate animal suffering in labs, a genetic analysis of animal feed to address food quality issues, and the setup of a network to coordinate research around animal infection. All these research efforts are key to the advancement of science, the advent of a more mindful and environment-friendly society and the long term sustainability of our lifestyles. And with relevant Horizon 2020 projects kicking off all across Europe, it is certain that animals will keep being a priority of EU-funded research over the years to come.