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Will Virtual Frog Software Make Traditional Dissections Obsolete?

Animal rights activists want schools to ditch preserved frog dissections in favor of computer software simulators.

Get your virtual scalpels ready! Frog dissection has long been a mainstay of high school biology classes, but slicing into real amphibians could become a thing of the past. A new push by animal rights activists called "Race to Stop Dissections" hopes to get schools to adopt anatomy software that lets students dissect digital frogs instead.

Animal Welfare Institute and Save the Frogs! say ditching preserved frog dissection will help with amphibian conservation efforts. Cathy Liss, president of AWI told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that switching to computer software, like the aptly named Digital Frog 2.5, "is more humane, more effective, environmentally friendly, cost-effective and does not teach students to rationalize the unjustified killing of animals."

But do students actually learn as much if they can't hold the frog and touch it? In 2008 the National Science Teachers Association approved the use of virtual animal dissection software and many veterinary and medical schools are making the switch. A George Mason University study also found that students taught with Digital Frog 2.5 learned anatomy and physiology faster and more effectively than students taught with traditional preserved frogs. Save the Frogs! founder Dr. Kerry Kriger notes that he has "a doctorate in environmental science and I've never dissected a frog in my life." He says the virtual experience is actually preferable because if a student accidentally snips something she shouldn't have in a real-life dissection, the project is wrecked. In comparison, a student can dissect a virtual frog over and over and just undo any mistakes with the click of a mouse.

The move to a virtual experience would certainly be welcome for students who find the experience of cutting into an animal inhumane or disgusting—I remember my freshman year lab partner fainting while we worked on our frog. Dissections are also environmentally questionable since the frogs are preserved in formaldehyde, and students often touch these chemical coated frogs with their bare hands. But what may really persuade schools to move to a virtual experience is that the software is a lot cheaper than buying the traditional frog kits.

Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley, California has become the first school in the nation to make the switch to a completely virtual frog dissection experience. Principal Kevin Stipp says the chance to save some money is the main reason he agreed to move to virtual frogs. The school normally spends almost $7,000 on 30 frog kits that have to be shared between 1,225 biology students over a five year period. In comparison a Digital Frog 2.5 license only costs $884—which Rancho Verde is getting for free for making the switch, courtesy of the Animal Welfare Institute—and every student can dissect her own frog online.

The two animal rights organizations say they'll buy the virtual dissection software licenses for the first 25 schools that agree to abandon preserved frog dissections for the next five years. They hope all schools make the virtual switch by 2014.

photo via Wikimedia Commons

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