Ban on frogs sticks in scientists' throats

February 28, 2008

Moves by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to protect biodiversity by banning dangerous non-native animal species would normally be expected to have scientists' unqualified support.

But the frog, Xenopus laevis, which was added last year to a list of animals whose sale Defra wishes to ban, has a champion among developmental biologists.

The animal, more commonly known as the African clawed toad, is one of the most widely used frog species in biomedical research - despite its predilection for eating other amphibians and for carrying a fungal disease that can prove fatal to frog populations around the world.

"To ban it would be a major problem," said Matt Guille, head of biological sciences at the University of Portsmouth and leader of the European Xenopus Resource Centre, which supplies stocks of the frogs to laboratories around Britain.

"It is essential for the future of a significant proportion of biomedical research both in the UK and worldwide to be able to move, sell and exchange Xenopus."

Dr Guille estimated that about 20,000 of the species are used in laboratories every year. He said it was a "fantastically powerful animal model" for studying how organisms develop and cells replicate.

A range of organisations from the Biosciences Federation to the Wellcome Trust, which funds the Xenopus centre, have now lodged responses opposing a ban of the African clawed toad.

A Defra spokesman told Times Higher Education that the draft list had been drawn up by its Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which includes independent scientific advisers, but that nothing had yet been decided. "We are going to listen to everybody's concerns about economic impact and scientific research," the spokesman said.

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