As this issue marks the end of not only an unpredictable and turbulent year but also the end of a decade, we believe it is important to reflect on our values both as individuals and as a collective. This year in particular has propelled into the limelight the highs and lows of what it means to be human. As a collective, we should be proud to have developed multiple vaccines to a novel virus within a span of less than a year. Globally, we as a species are living our longest years, with more individuals getting basic education and more opportunities in life. Despite these advances, there are still inequalities that leave a lot of room for growth – inequities in race, opportunity, health, and education, to name a few. Most importantly, the fragility of life has been thrust front and center by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – not only ours but that of all life. This brings us to the theme of our latest issue: “Animals, Learning by Example”.
Perhaps if we had allocated more resources to the study of animals like pangolins, the COVID-19 pandemic could have been prevented. Unfortunately, our lifestyles are causing the sixth mass extinction (the Holocene extinction), and we now stand to lose a vast wealth of knowledge built over millions of years of evolution. In this issue, we highlight all that we have benefited from the study of animals. We start our issue off with an infographic detailing the importance of animal research, their uses, and what we stand to gain (p8). Our interview with former UofT researcher Dr. Jonathan Rast, who studies immune development using lampreys, sharks, and sea urchins, highlights how these less common animal models in research can offer insight into our shared biology (p18).
The next few articles that follow show how the natural world can inspire innovations and further scientific research to benefit humankind. We discuss the concept of biomimicry in the development of the Japanese Shinkansen (p10)and needle designs (p12), the study of short antibodies in llamas (p14) and of cancer in mole rats (p16), and the controversial use of animals and potential of plants in traditional medicine (p20). We then question the ethics of animal research and how we should always consider the three Rs (reduction, replacement, and refinement) (p24). This leads to our dedication piece to animal models, namely their history and the key discoveries we have gained from them (p26), and a reflection on our relationship with animals in terms of domestication and artificial selection (p28). Finally, we end this issue with an article by the IMM250 IMMpress Prize winner, Christopher Thompson, who discusses how microbial manipulation can lead to reduction in child mortality and starvation (p32). Congratulations, Christopher!
Lastly, we would like to extend our utmost thanks to our crew of wonderfully talented writers, designers, and editors, without whom this issue would not have been possible. This issue serves to honour not only the sacrifices of animals, from whom we have benefited and learned, but also those who sacrifice their livelihoods, relationships, and even lives to save those of others. Thank you all and let us all do our part to make sure we do not forget their noble deeds. Finally, we wish our readers a safe and happy holiday season!