Animal research in Germany

Animal research in Germany

In 2021, 314,613 laboratory animals were used at the Max Planck Institutes. This figure includes 65,696 animals that were used to obtain organ or tissue samples and were not exposed to any stress before their death. Compared to 2020 (319,292 laboratory animals), the number of animals used in experiments has thus decreased by 1.5 per cent. Rodents (mice and rats) accounted for the largest share of experimental animals at around 80 per cent, followed by fish (18 per cent). Other animal groups, such as birds (1 per cent), were used as laboratory animals at the Max Planck Institutes to a much lesser extent.

In percentage terms, the Max Planck Society uses significantly more fish for its research than the national average and thus fulfils an essential requirement of the German Animal Welfare Act, according to which vertebrate animals should be used for experimental purposes at the lowest possible level of organisation. However, the high proportion of fish is also due to their importance for basic research: the zebrafish (zebrafish) in particular has become a very important model organism for molecular and developmental biology as well as neuroscience. If we look at the type of use, 71 per cent of all animals are assigned to basic research, in accordance with the scientific orientation of the Max Planck Society.

In 2021, no experiments on non-human primates requiring authorisation were carried out at our institutes.

Severity of the experiments

In 2021, experiments at Max Planck Institutes were predominantly low-stress (80 per cent); the proportion of medium-stress animal experiments was 16 per cent. Only 0.75 per cent of experiments at Max Planck Institutes were classified as high burden. The proportion of animal experiments conducted entirely under general anaesthesia from which the animals did not awaken was 2.75 per cent overall.

The proportion of genetically modified animals in 2021 was 83 per cent, an increase of 10 per cent over the previous year. Only 3 per cent of all experimental animals with genetic modification had experienced adverse health effects as a result. The vast majority of all genetically modified animals (mostly rodents) showed no health abnormalities (97 per cent).

Killing for scientific purposes

In 2021, 549,251 laboratory animals were killed painlessly for scientific purposes at the Max Planck Institutes. This figure includes the animals already listed which were used for organ or tissue removal. None of these laboratory animals - predominantly rodents (73 per cent) and fish (27 per cent) - underwent surgery or treatment during their lifetime. For the generation, breeding and maintenance of genetically modified lines, which represent an essential tool for biomedical research, 69 per cent of the animals were used. Tissue sampling accounted for 12 per cent.

Despite careful planning, it is unavoidable that research activities result in animals that cannot be used directly in animal testing projects (experiments). The Max Planck Society is very keen to keep this proportion (19 per cent in 2021) as low as possible.

Animals that cannot be used in animal experimentation projects mainly come from breeding genetically modified breeding lines. These animals do not carry all the genetic characteristics required for the planned animal experiment due to the statistically random transmission of genetic changes in accordance with Mendel's rules. Such animals are produced every time genetically modified lines are bred. The researchers of the Max Planck Society use different strategies to reduce the number of these animals or to use the animals in other ways.

Model organism fruit fly
The common kitchen pest Drosophila melanogaster is indispensable as a model organism in the lab.
Model organism zebrafish
Thanks to fish, researchers can forego experiments with higher vertebrates.
Model organism mouse
Mice make up the majority of vertebrates in the animal research facilities of the Max Planck Institutes.
Primate research
In Germany, research involving monkies is only allowed under observation of strict legal regulations.

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