Biology students dissect a rat

by Xypher Pino

Did you know that humans and rats are highly similar? Well, now you do. Rats serve as excellent models for the human body and share many physical traits with humans. Recently, general biology students had the opportunity to investigate this by dissecting a rat and examining its properties.

The lab started off with students sanitizing themselves and putting on gloves as they gotready to peek into buckets filled with dead rats and pick their own personal rodent. As the students saw the rats, the reactions varied – some were super excited, while some were rightfully disgusted.

“It was kind of creepy seeing all the rats in the bucket. It was not that bad, though, because the rats did not stink. It was disgusting, but not as bad as it would have been if the rats were stinky,” said sophomore biology major Barrett Gardner after picking out his rat.

Professor Marjorie Larkin, long-time GC biology professor, even admitted that she “dreads” starting off these dissection labs.

“I am not a big fan of dissection, but once I get into it then I thoroughly enjoy it,” Larkin said. “Some students like it, some students do not. It is hard for the ones that do not. This is the reason why I have to walk around, and I have to make sure that every student is contributing, because some of them are a little squeamish.”

Regardless of the reactions, the students had no choice but to move forward and proceed with the dissection process by skinning the rat. By using dissecting scissors, students had to cut through the rat’s abdomen, being careful not to tear the muscle of the rat. If done successfully, one should be able to peel off the rat’s skin just like peeling some fruit.

The goal of this first rat dissection lab is to be able to see the rat’s body systems and how they are similar to the human body. As the students took off the skin, the muscles were exposed and became easily identifiable. The
students then had to identify each individual rat muscle. After doing so, the next step was to cut into the actual rat in order to examine its internal organs for comparison to human body systems. This was done in the next lab session.

The process of cutting through the muscle is essentially the same as skinning the rat. Students had to cut a horizontal line in the rat’s pectoral area and its inguinal region. After, a vertical cut must be made starting from one side of the previous cut going to the other. The muscles of the rat should now become “like a window,” as described by Larkin. The student should be able to open these windows and be able to identify the rat’s organs.

Other than identifying physical similarities between rats and humans, Larkin stated that these dissection labs will prepare students, especially those who are biology and health science majors, for more advanced biology classes, specifically anatomy and physiology.

“Biology majors and health science majors will have to take anatomy and physiology. They will end up having to dissect a cat in that class, so, a couple years ago, we decided to do rats in general biology because people needed preparation for the cats.”

The rat dissection lab was a unique experience. It is weird to see a dead rat and mess with it, but it was still an absolute blast. General biology satisfies a general education requirement so, without a doubt, you should be able to experience this dissection lab as well, regardless of your major.

Rat label worksheets used by students during lab (photo courtesy of Breanna Adamick).

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