The scorpion chemosensory organs (project 1) & Biological contexts of pain perception and suffering in experimental animals (project 2)

1. The scorpion chemosensory organs have a number of unusual properties, making them an intriguing research object for neurobiologists. First, the scorpion pectines are not located on the head like the noses or antennae of most animals but rather on the ventral side of the abdomen in close proximity to the substrate. Second, the pectines thus uniquely combine olfactory and gustatory input with mechnanosensoryinput from the substrate. Third, the projection areas of the pectines in the central nervous system possess a so-called glomerular structure and thus conform to the general pattern observed in all animals studied so far. This glomerular structure serves the sorting of chemosensory input by receptor type, that is, by coarse chemical characteristics. In contrast to this general pattern, however, superimposed on that glomerular structure appears to be a topographical representation of mechanosensory input. This presumably first stage of sensory fusion between chemosensory and mechanosensory modalities may be a particularity of the scorpion chemosensory system. In this context, neuroanatomical and physiological data on the scorpion pectines shall be collated and interpreted in the context of sensor fusion and behavioral function.

2. Biological contexts of pain perception and suffering in experimental animals have largely been ignored in recent discussions on animal rights. Considering the significance of experimental animals for biomedical research and for drug approval, but also pet animals and animal husbandry for human consumption, this lack of a biological understanding of pain perception and the evolutionary and sociobiological function of pain and suffering are not only surprising. This lack is probably at the root of many unforgiving disputes that obstruct useful public discussions and generally acceptable legislation. The present project aims at providing a biological perspective on pain and suffering in this context. Topics to be addressed range from physiological properties, such as presence or absence of pain receptors, to evolutionary considerations, such as the function of pain and suffering in social animals, and it shall address potential research methods for overcoming subjective anthropomorphic interpretations of aversive behavior that are often interpreted as pain.

Project leader(s):
  • Harald Wolf (Institute of Neurobiology, University of Ulm)

Leave a Reply