Spinning guinea pigs on a turntable for science!

Occasionally you hear of science experiments in which the experiment itself is much more interesting than the result. For example, there is a whole genre of experiments which involve putting animals on turntables and spinning them right round, baby, right round. And yes, it's actually important.

Have you heard that old saying that the journey is more important than the destination? Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it's crap. Especially in science. Although, yes, it is important to make sure the experiment is conceived and set up correctly, it's the results that everyone is waiting for. And yet, there are some experiments where you just can't muster the will to care about the results. You just wanna know how they do it. A classic experiment like this is testing octopuses for personality. Only slightly behind that is testing guinea pigs for motion sickness.

The experiment is actually important. For some time it was thought that guinea pigs didn't even get motion sickness, and it seems they're less prone to its excesses (like copious vomiting) than humans. Since we are turning our eyes skyward again, and since one of the big problems with space travel is motion sickness, a knowledge of their hardiness might come in handy.

And yet I don't care about that. What I want to know is, how do you test a guinea pig for motion sickness? It seems that post-experiment reporting would be, at the very least, less than optimal. So how do you judge if a guinea pig gets motion sick? Feed it first! These motion sickness experiments all start the same way children's birthday parties do. Stuff 'em full of sugar - or saccharine solution. A third of the animals in these experiments then go on to have typical birthday party experiences. They're put on a kind of merry-go-round and spun. And spun. And spun and spun and spun. Another third of the participants are put on solid ground while the walls are spun around them, to make sure it's the motion, not the sights associated with the motion, that affect the first group. The last group of pigs are left to their own devices.

Where motion sick guinea pigs differ from children, though, is once they've been spun around so much they feel sick, they're not so interested in sugar anymore. Guinea pigs fed a saccharin solution prior to their spin showed what scientists termed an "aversion" to saccharin solution the next time around. The non-spun groups of guinea pigs chowed down as much as they had before. The spun pigs learned to associate sweet taste with a horrible nausea and stayed away from it until they'd been exposed to it a few times without being spun. I would love to see if astronauts responded the same way. Even more than that, I would love to see video footage of the pig spinning to disco music. But we must live with some disappointment in life.

Top Image: Jay Reed

Via NCBI twice.