a rite of passage for biology students from junior high to graduate school - is going the way of the slide rule and ink well.
Under pressure from animal-rights groups and eager to save money, schools increasingly are turning to sophisticated new computer programs that allow students to probe the inner workings of anatomy without killing animals."I don't like killing things," said David L. Tauck, assistant professor biology at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. "It's hard to justify doing it when my students can learn the same thing from computers."
In Tauck's classroom, a souped-up personal computer has replaced the scalpels and sharp probes on the laboratory tables where countless frogs once uttered their last croak.
Students in his biology and animal physiology courses last year began using such computers to conduct classic experiments with nerve-cell and heart functions - experiments that previously required cutting open frogs and cats.
In the past, for example, students had to dissect a frog's leg to study the electrical charges that make muscles twitch. But with the computer they can use their own muscles and special software to learn the concepts.
"One of the experiments we do involves problems that used to take weeks to solve, and that once won someone a Nobel Prize," Tauck said. "With the computer, students can do it in a few seconds."
At the University of California at Berkeley, an entire physiology course is taught with computer models that allow students to perform complex heart operations and other experiments.
A growing number of public junior high and high schools are expected to turn to such computer programs this year in the wake of a new state law giving students the option not to kill and dissect animals for ethical reasons.
The bill, the first of its kind in the nation, was authored by Assemblywoman Jackie Speier of San Francisco and signed by Gov. Deukmejian in March.
Its inspiration was a 16-year-old student from Victorville, Calif., who last year filed suit in federal court to prevent her high school from forcing her to dissect a frog.
In the suit, which was dismissed earlier this month, Jennifer Graham, a vegetarian, maintained she could learn all she needed to know about anatomy with her Apple II computer and specialized software.
Eventually her high school allowed her to use color photographs of a frog that had died naturally.
The Apple program Graham wanted to use, called "Operation Frog," is one of the hottest-selling pieces of educational software offered by Scholastic Software of New York, a spokeswoman said.
As would be expected, animal-rights groups are hailing the switch to computers.
But there are some aspects of anatomy that just can't be learned without getting your hands on the warm tissues and organs of real animals, according to Dr. Paul Licht, professor of zoology at UC-Berkeley.
"Computers don't let you know what the feel, the texture, the appearance and the smell of an animal is like," Licht said.
Although it is the university's policy to minimize the use of animals in experiments, many anatomy and physiology courses still use rats that students are taught to "euthanize properly," he said.
"Hopefully many of our students are going to become doctors and veterinarians, and they have to know what the real thing is like," Licht said. "Would you want to be the first person operated on by a doctor who learned everything from computer models?"