BYB Ethics Statement
Backyard Brains Logo

Neuroscience for Everyone!

+1 (855) GET-SPIKES (855-438-7745)

items ()

Ethical Issues Regarding the Use of Invertebrates in Education

Our experiments are not philosophically perfect and without controversy. However, we believe strongly that our use of animals in education is ethical and important. Our protocols are reviewed annually by an external ethics review board (IRB) and have met the rigorous standards of what is considered ethical.

When working with animals in science, one has to calculate a "cost/benefit ratio". Meaning, what is the cost to the animal vs. what is the benefit from the experiment.

Cost to animal

We have carefully looked at the cost to the animal and have published on this work. We know that in the wild, the leg or antenna from an insect are often missing, and that they have evolved a way to grow them back. A cockroach's leg can easily detach via "autotomy" and is hypothesized to be a defense mechanism, much like the tail of a lizard. We have carefully looked at our classroom techniques and have published the survival and leg regrowth of the cockroach in a peer-reviewed experiment:

Marzullo, T. C. (2016). Leg Regrowth in Blaberus discoidalis (Discoid Cockroach) following Limb Autotomy versus Limb Severance and Relevance to Neurophysiology Experiments. PLoS ONE, 11(1), e0146778.

We do make sure to anesthetize all our animals when we do experiments, and we explain this to students. We actually do not know if insects feel pain during leg removal, but we make the assumption that they would if they were not anesthetized. Whether the insect feels pain when it wakes up from the surgery and detects a missing leg, we do not know. All we is know is that the wound does heal, and that the cockroaches are walking around within hours, eating lettuce, drinking water crystals, and making more cockroaches. This is the same behavior as our other cockroaches. We therefore conclude that the cost to the cockroach is relatively low.

Benefit to society

So what are the benefits of our educational neuroscience experiments involving animals? We live in a society where 25% of the world is affected by a mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives (source: World Health Organization) and there are no known cures. What is required to advanced understanding of neurological disorders is basic neuroscience research. Most people do not have even a basic understanding of how the brain works.

Neuroscience courses are not taught in K12 as research tools are typically complex and expensive. They are not used by students until advanced graduate school and major universities in lab courses. These courses are taught to neuroscience graduate students who have already decided to focus their studies on the brain. The rest of society are left with a poor understanding of how the brain works, and more importantly are not aware of a vast field of neuroscience research that needs our brightest minds to advance.

Our experiments involving insects are designed to allow young students and the public to gain a rich understanding of brain function by investigating hands-on how neurons work. We have a goal to educate as well as to excite students about the field of neuroscience. We know from speaking to many young graduate students at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference that our labs and tools have been major motivators in their decision to study neuroscience. We have won several awards for our leadership on this important mission, including awards from the National Institutes of Health, Society for Neuroscience, and even from President Barack Obama at a 2013 White House ceremony.

Given the need for important neuroscience research in the future and the need to educate the public on neuroscience, we feel the benefit to society is high.


We conclude that our experiments involving animals are ethical given the cost / benefit ratio. The cost to the animal is low, while the benefit to society is high. We do respect other differing opinions on this matter and are always eager to engage in discussion to improve.

For further information on the science behind what we do. Please refer to our peer-reviewed academic journal articles about our research.

Nguyen, D. M. T., Roper, M., Mircic, S., Olberg, R. M., & Gage, G. J. (2017). Grasshopper DCMD: An Undergraduate Electrophysiology Lab for Investigating Single-Unit Responses to Behaviorally-Relevant Stimuli. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 15(2), A162–A173.
Marzullo, T. C. (2016). Leg Regrowth in Blaberus discoidalis (Discoid Cockroach) following Limb Autotomy versus Limb Severance and Relevance to Neurophysiology Experiments. PLoS ONE, 11(1), e0146778.
Baden, T., Chagas, A. M., Gage, G. J., Marzullo, T. C., Prieto-Godino, L. L., & Euler, T. (2015). Open Labware: 3-D Printing Your Own Lab Equipment. PLoS Biology, 13(5), e1002175.
Shannon, K. M., Gage, G. J., Jankovic, A., Wilson, W. J., & Marzullo, T. C. (2014). Portable conduction velocity experiments using earthworms for the college and high school neuroscience teaching laboratory. Advances in Physiology Education, 38(1), 62–70.
Dagda, R. K., Thalhauser, R. M., Dagda, R., Marzullo, T. C., & Gage, G. J. (2013). Using Crickets to Introduce Neurophysiology to Early Undergraduate Students. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 12(1), A66–A74.
Marzullo, T. C., & Gage, G. J. (2012). The SpikerBox: A Low Cost, Open-Source BioAmplifier for Increasing Public Participation in Neuroscience Inquiry. PLoS ONE, 7(3), e30837.