In this episode, Bart and I invited PhD candidate Daniela Buchwald from the German Primate Center – a private research institute. We compare how the University of Göttingen and the German Primate Center (GPC) responded to the impending shutdown of most research activities – with a focus on how the animals are being cared for.
The conversation was recorded on Tuesday, March 17, just after the German local government began to take serious action to reduce public life to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Remember that when we talk about news reaching us on Monday, we mean “yesterday” at the time of recording.
Daniela studies the planning of grasping movements in monkeys‘ brains at the GPC. Currently, a thousand monkeys are hosted in the facility and Daniela’s group is working with 12 of them.
Daniela had just defended her PhD thesis – two weeks earlier than planned to avoid delays due to the lockdown. Other students weren’t so lucky. Their graduation will certainly be delayed. We do hope that potential future employers will take this into account.
But Daniela, too, is facing career difficulties: She had planned to visit different conferences to talk to Principal Investigators about postdoc opportunities. But everything is canceled or postponed. Hopefully, she will be able to connect with PIs online.
The GPC responded relatively early. They began preparing for a possible lockdown and sent general notices (wash hands, social distancing, home working…). Most importantly: they began planning for the continued care of the monkeys.
The institute divided the animal caregiver into 2 teams. These teams will alternate biweekly. So, if one team member becomes sick, the institute will know whom he or she had been in contact with.
Monkeys can get the virus, too. So – although the monkeys get back on their feet and build an immunity quickly – the researchers decided to halt almost all experiments. Only monkeys with brain implants will still be trained and tested. That is because the implants are very sensitive and, once implanted, can only be used for a limited time. To stop these experiments would mean to lose enormous investments – including the monkey.
At the University of Göttingen, where Bart works with flies and keeps zebrafish for demonstration purposes, things are a bit easier. The flies don’t need any attention for 2 weeks at a time, and the fish can be cared for by just two people. Bart and a colleague freed the students from these duties entirely.