Field of Science

Care and use of non-existent animals

Everyone in biology knows about IACUC (Insitutional Animal Care and Use Committees). If you study animals, at least those far enough along the phylogenetic tree, you have to construct protocols for their proper and humane care and use. So far those of us of a botanical sort are not subject to such protocols. You want to make cole slaw; slice and dice away. This is fortunate because the Phactor does not react well to over bearing bureaucracies, but this story isn't about the Phactor. One of my colleagues does something a bit strange. Every now and again he travels to the northwestern USA, joins up with some cryptozoological colleagues, and heads out into the boondocks to look for Bigfoot. It's probably a nice hike. But now IACUC wants him to file a protocol for Bigfoot. Huh? A protocol for the care and use of a non-existent beast? Don't you have to ask if there are established protocols for unicorns and trolls? Well, if you actually go looking for trolls, then you deserve having IACUC demand a troll protocol. Fortunately no botanical equivalent of cryptozoology exists, although there is a society for plant neurobiology, which certainly is studying something that doesn't exist. Cryptobotany doesn't exist because botanists have been so successful at finding extinct plants, but if you happen upon a glossopterid, oh, please let us see it!

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