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John McCain: University of Missouri Shouldn't Get Federal Stimulus Money To Freeze Rat Sperm

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Mizzou scientists splurged taxpayer dollars on rat sperm.
During the 2008 presidential election, John McCain simply could not shut up about earmarks. Even though the wasteful "pork" spending makes up just a tiny fraction of the federal budget, the aging senator from Arizona seemed to think that eliminating it was a panacea for the government's financial problems.

Now, two years later, McCain is back on his high horse, demanding an end to government pork. Only this time around, he might have a point.

McCain and senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, published a report yesterday titled "Summertime Blues," that details what they believe are the 100 most egregious uses of federal stimulus dollars.

The University of Missouri made the list because the school received $180,935 to freeze rat sperm. Seriously.

According to the government's grant summary, the taxpayer dollars will actually go toward studying how to un-freeze rat sperm, a process known as "germplasm cryobanking."

The scientists wrote that, "although rats are important system for modeling human disease, there is no established germplasm cryopreservation protocol," meaning that the rodents and their semen are critical to their work but the lab workers don't have an efficient way to store and reuse the stuff after they "harvest" it. Apparently the little rat sperms don't swim so well after going in the deep freeze.

The researchers cited "an urgent need" in their request for money to study the problem. They even noted that, "Over the last few years, our laboratory has generated ample amount of data related with optimal sperm handling."

Daily RFT called and emailed the Mizzou PR department asking for them to explanation the, ahem, sticky situation. We'll post an update if/when we hear back.

Meanwhile, here's a pdf of the entire "Summertime Blues" report.

Remarkably, McCain and Coburn only consider the Mizzou rat sperm request the 95th-most outrageous use of stimulus money. Number one, for them, is $554,743 to replace the windows at an abandoned visitor's center at Mt. St. Helens in Washington State. They also criticized spending $450,695 to build a museum exhibit on the "national and cultural history of the Mississippi River" at the National Great Rivers Museum in East Alton, Ill.

UPDATE 2:52 p.m.: Here's the email response we received from University of Missouri spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken:
We are not in session currently and very few researchers are on campus; I tried but cannot get in touch with Dr. Agca or his dean. My perception is that this research is to find an effective way to freeze and unfreeze sperm so that research can be done on methods of artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization without having to have a large population of live rats. An important thing to note is that although the research is done on rats, the implications are for humans. In other words, this research allows researchers to have a large supply of rat sperm to enable research to find better ways to accomplish artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization in humans.
Banken also points to this report from the National Institute of Health describing the value of rat sperm research.


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