I received a Google Scholar alert this morning and as usual, I was ‘alert’ and excited. Probably another academic had cited my work? Not this time. I guess in the complex ‘snooping’ system of Google Scholar network, it was found out that I had in one or more occasions quoted neuro-scientist Miguel Nicolelis and so his 2014 short paper on developments on Brain-to-Machine Interface (BTMI) and Brain-to-Brain Interface (BTBI) was sent to me.

Indeed I have quoted Professor Miguel Nicholelis a number of times since he autographed for me his 2011 book, Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines – and How It Will Change Our Lives. I attended and presented a paper on alternative technology for development at the Ecolé Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland in May 2012. This conference was the 2nd UNESCO Chair International Conference on technology for development. Professor Nicolelis was one of the speakers and I had the opportunity to buy his book which he autographed.

The brief paper published in Cerebrum by the Dana Foundation on September 8th, 2014 details the extensive work by laboratories in Brazil (where Prof Nicolelis is from and is based), United States, and Britain on trials using rats, mice, monkeys, and a few human beings to determine the possibilities of interactions between brain and machine and brain and brain. The outcome, some already successful, could have enormous medical consequences including healing of persons with permanent brain and spinal cord injuries as well as paralyzed persons and those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease which even greats such as Muhammad Ali was a victim. Who knows the grounds covered since 2014 when the above quoted paper was published?

The rationale for this brief piece is on the usefulness of what is generally regarded as a nuisance to human beings – rats. Along with mice, rats are regarded as constituting as much as 95% of laboratory research animals by the Foundation for Biomedical Research, Washington DC, USA. The basic reason is not so much because they are sturdy and breed heavily, it is because rats and mice closely resemble human beings genetically and biologically and display close behavioural characteristics as Remy Melina wrote in Livescience of November 16th, 2010.

Use of rats as laboratory animals for research started way back in 1903 with the work of American psychologist John B. Watson. He used it for his work which produced his PhD dissertation at the University of Chicago. Rats and mice have not rested since.

How many people can stand rats? The Karni Mata Rat Temple in Rajasthan, India is home to at least 20, 000 rats with some human beings living there to tend to them. There are few other cases that show human beings at peace with rats. Otherwise, rats – and indeed mice – are hated and dreaded more so they have the capacity to spread some diseases, some deadly, such as the bubonic plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century, taking along 50 million lives, about 60% of the entire population of Europe. Lassa fever in Nigeria is also deadly, able to take life of those affected within two weeks of infection if not treated. Lassa fever is caused by carrier rodents in endemic areas via their feaces and urine deposited on food and ingested by human beings.

So, here we are with animals people do not normally want to see. Donald Trump hates it, and hates Baltimore where rats are found, except probably the housing units, more than 9,000 in number, in Baltimore County owned by his son-in-law Jared Kushner where rodents abound. And in New York where Trump personally owns properties, he tolerates them. Rat has been seen in the White House and in 10 Downing Street as we learn as well as in the great palaces, rodents are unwelcome but permanent guests. Larry and Palmerston the Cats are official residents of 10 Downing Street as mousers! Yet in neighbourhoods that Trump believes are ‘never-Trumpers,’ Trump rails at them.

So where are we going? In the New Testament, one Nathaniel asks with incredulity when told that one Jesus the Christ was born in Nazareth – ‘can anything good come from Nazareth?’ The tiny Israeli village was said to have a population of between 100 and 150 when Jesus arrived as an indigene. It was not on a major trade route. In fact it was not known. Yet by Biblical prophecy dating to Isaiah the prophet seven hundred years before the village came to be, it was to host Jesus the Christ. In essence, it is not wise to write off anybody or anything.

Muhammad Ali, boxing legend, once said, “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they sure can make something out of you.” ‘The Greatest’ did not live long enough to benefit from the research on Alzheimer’s using rats as test beings, but he drew attention to a critical fact – nothing is indeed useless if people look closely at it. He was a victim of Alzheimer’s syndrome.

Take a look at the palm tree for instance. This is one economic tree that almost every part – in fact using the Ali’s conceptualization – every part is useful. After getting palm oil, should the chaff be thrown away? No. It is a source of fuel for cooking or drying although the smoke therefrom can pollute what is roasted. Should the fresh tree be thrown away after it is cut down? No. Palm wine can be tapped and it is very sweet and nutritious aside from fetching the tapper good money. The husk from the kernel? It is a source of fuel and can be used for road work. And after oil is extracted from the kernel seed, the dry meat can go into animal feed production. Nothing appears to be totally useless in the palm tree.

I watched a survival documentary of life in a desert in the Discovery Family channel. A man did not only use the carcass of an animal as shade from the merciless sun, he drank the bitter fluid from the intestines to give himself fluid! Normally, the decaying carcass should be thrown into the bowels of earth and covered with sand.

Laboratory rats are indeed bred and refined so much they even look adorable. Yet they are rats! In spite of this, they hold the future of mankind to a great extent as researchers are working to understand human beings more and more in terms of ‘architecture,’ genes, health, nutrition, and so on. One day, it will be possible to clone human beings as rats have been cloned (sans the religio-moral aspects) and heal hitherto untreatable diseases including cancer and neuro disorders and disabilities.

If these come to pass, rats and mice would have played the major, though unsung role. It is not likely that like Larry the cat of 10 Downing Street that won an award, or the dog that is currently trending and may win an Armed Forces Services Medal in the US, rats (certainly not the living ones) may not win any award. It is the researchers that could get the Nobel Prize. But those who know will, hopefully, erect a monument to the memory of the millions of cats and mice that have lost their lives to dissection and painful chemicals for the good of mankind.

For now, no one should write off any one – human and non-human, or even monuments and related others. For underneath, could lay an unexpected goodness in the most vile.

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