Laboratory animal strain mobilities: handling with care for animal sentience and biosecurity.

Sara Peres and Emma Roe
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The global distribution of laboratory mouse strains is valued for ensuring the continuity, validity and accessibility of model organisms. Mouse strains are therefore assumed mobile and able to travel. We draw on the concept of ‘animal mobilities’ (Hodgetts and Lorimer 2019) to explain how attending to laboratory mice as living animal, commodity and scientific tool is shaping how they are transported through contemporary scientific infrastructures and communities. Our paper is framed around exploring how animal strains travel, rather than animals, as we show that it is only through understanding strain mobility that we can explain how and why live animal movement can be replaced by germinal products. The research is based on qualitative fieldwork in 2018 and 2019 that included 2 weeks ethnography and interviews with key informants involved in the movement of laboratory animals. The empirical analysis discusses practices that relate to managing biosecurity and animal welfare concerns when moving laboratory animal strains. In closing we reflect more broadly on the contemporary ‘ethico-onto-epistemological’ (Barad, 2014) entanglement that shapes who or what travels to support laboratory science data-making practices, and the intensity of care ‘tinkering’ practices (Mol and Law 2010) that facilitate the movement. We explain how a laboratory animal strain exceeds its value solely as a mobile and thus exchangeable commodity, illustrated in how values that relate to animal sentience and infection-risk supports its material transformation. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly common for non-sentient germinal products – embryos and gametes - to replace live sentient animals when being moved.