Research on retired chimps compiled online
You will soon be able to download a chimpanzee. Well, download everything we know about certain chimpanzees, at least, as they’re being added to a database intended to help fill the gap left by retiring the actual chimps from research. Digital records of chimps won’t be a perfect replacement, but the chimps themselves probably won’t complain.
Part of why the chimps in the online repository won’t mind is because they’re now deceased. The database is intended to include data not only from chimps being transitioned out of the lab, but also compiled data from previous decades. Ideally, the accessibility of all this information, now more easily searchable than ever before, will make sure each animal’s physiology, behavior and experiences will continue to help our understanding of biology grow into the future. In cases where digital records don’t offer necessary information, tissue samples, including brains, blood and other organs are being preserved to be made available upon request.
Refuge for recent retirees
The mass retirement has been spurred by policy changes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), plus the declaration by the Fish and Wildlife Service that research chimpanzees be classified as endangered species. While many animals have already been retired from lab work, the NIH is having some difficulty finding enough homes for the final 310 chimps in need of a home. Facilities like the Chimp Haven in Louisiana only has enough space for an additional 25 chimpanzees, and since they typically live to be 50-60 years old, there’s no expectation that enough space will suddenly open up at the same rate as these retirements.
Aside from finding homes for the living chimps, this digital library of primate data may also be insufficient for some research. Concerns have been raised that some disease studies may require access to chimpanzees in a hurry, such as when governments scrambled to address the ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014. No specific policy has been outlined for such a situation, although chimpanzees are still being used in labs overseas, as well as in a small number of labs not dependent on NIH funding and oversight.
Source: 'Digital chimp' trove preserves brains of retired apes by Sara Reardon, Nature News