To insure the safety of student researchers and the ethical treatment of animals in scientific research, many fairs require pre-approval of projects involving vertebrate animals. "Vertebrate animals" means live, nonhuman mammalian embryos or fetuses, bird and reptile eggs within three days of hatching and all other nonhuman vertebrates at hatching or birth.
If you are participating in a fair that follows the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) rules, your project involving vertebrate animals must be reviewed by officials from your fair before you start. These officials are called a Scientific Review Committee (SRC). Often school science fairs and fairs for the primary grades or middle school rely on the teacher's judgment to insure safety, so their rules might be different. For complete information, consult the rules for your local fair, or the ISEF Rules and Guidelines.
Projects That Can Be Performed at Home or School
For studies involving vertebrate animals ISEF has specific rules about the type of studies that may be conducted at a non-regulated research site (home, school, farm, ranch, in the field, etc.). These projects are limited to:
- Studies involving animals in their natural environment
- Studies involving animals in zoological parks
- Studies involving livestock that use standard agricultural practices.
In addition, you can conduct your vertebrate animal study at a non-regulated research site ONLY if each of the following applies:
- The research involves behavioral, observational or supplemental nutritional studies on animals, and
- The research involves only non-invasive and non-intrusive methods that do not negatively affect an animal's health or well-being.
Projects That Must Be Performed in a Research Institution
All other experiments involving vertebrate animals, including any experiment that involves euthanizing the animals after the experiment to obtain tissues for study, or momentary pain or stress must be conducted at a regulated research institution (a professional research institution that is regularly inspected by the USDA and is licensed to use animals covered under the Animal Welfare Act).
Projects That Are Exempt from Prior Approval
Studies involving behavioral observations of animals are exempt from prior SRC review if ALL of the following apply:
- There is no interaction with the animals being observed,
- There is no manipulation of the environment in any way, and
- Study meets all federal and state fish, game and wildlife laws and regulations.
The following types of experiments on vertebrate animals are prohibited:
- All induced toxicity studies such as those using alcohol, acid rain, insecticide, herbicide, heavy metals, etc.
- Behavioral experiments involving operant conditioning with aversive stimuli, mother/infant separation or induced helplessness.
- Studies of pain
- Predator/vertebrate experiments
Additional Rules and Guidelines:
For SRC approval of vertebrate animal studies many rules need to be followed. A full listing can be found on the ISEF Rules and Guidelines page. SRC approval will require providing the committee with a clear description of:
- Why vertebrate animals are necessary for the study and cannot be replaced with nonvertebrate animals.
- How the study can be accomplished using the fewest number of vertebrates while maximizing their health and comfort.