I recently read this article from Futurity reporting on cyborg beetle experiments conducted at the University of California at Berkeley. The study is available in Current Biology (subscription required for the full article), and focused on determining the muscles involved in steering beetles in flight. There’s video.
I’ve posted before about cyborg beetles, and my misgivings about making cyborg beetle kits available for the general public. I wasn’t quite as bothered by experiments in laboratory settings, but the notion of people conducting home surgery to attach mechanical parts to living creatures still strikes me as a bit cavalier.
I recognize that other animals are used in scientific experiments, so why is this different? Are the mechanical changes in these experiments somehow qualitatively different than the genetic modifications to mice that can result in wholly new traits (or parts) for the animal?
I think, besides the possibility of backyard surgery, it comes down to remote control. That these beetles, as well as other insects (and some higher animals, it turns out) are being manipulated gives me pause. I still see the value in it, but whatever ethical discussions are going on about this research are not visible to those of us not working in the field.
I think it might make public acceptance of this research a bit easier to let people know what considerations and discussions have gone into this research before we see remote-control cyborg gerbils available at your local pet store at some point a few years from now.