pain goes another step down the food chain

It’s long been thought that fish don’t feel pain, but in a study released last week by the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of science, researchers say they have conclusive proof that they do. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and the Roslin Institute injected either bee venom or acetic acid into the lips of rainbow trout. The fish showed “rocking” motions, similar to the kind of motion seen in higher animals in pain. The trout injected with acetic acid rubbed their lips on the gravel of their tank and on the tank walls. According to Lynne Sneddon, the leader of the team, “These do not appear to be reflex responses.” The injected fish also took three times longer to resume feeding compared to the fish in the control group. The team also found that the trout had nociceptors — receptors that responded to tissue-damaging stimuli — in their heads. It’s the first time that these receptors — similar to those found in amphibians, birds, and mammals — have been found in fish. “Our research demonstrates nociception and suggests that noxious stimulation in the rainbow trout has adverse behavioral and physiological effects,” Sneddon said. “This fulfills the criteria for animal pain.”

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 5/06/2003.
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