In the 1940s, frogs used to tell women if they were pregnant with nearly 100% accuracy
Did you know that before humans started peeing on a stick, grains like barley and emmer, and animals like mice, rabbits, and even frogs were used to determine …
You are NOT the father!
Yessss suck it yo hahaha.
I didn’t even know I was pregnant.
This is good.
How do you not know that you’re pregnant?
There are a lot of reasons why
someone might not notice a pregnancy.
Not everyone experiences symptoms like
morning sickness in the early stages.
Even testing for pregnancy has way more science behind it
than peeing on a little plastic rod will have you think.
Actually, that reminds me, did you know that we used
to test for pregnancy by injecting urine into frogs?
And what made you think I wanted to know!?
This episode concerns fertility and medical history.
That includes descriptions of animal testing.
If you have any further questions, we
recommend speaking with medical professionals.
And with that out of the way,
Let’s get into it.
The first official home pregnancy test only
showed up on shelves in the late 70’s, but
humans have been trying to figure out if they
have a bun in the oven for thousands of years.
As far back as 1,500 BCE, Egyptians had a special
trick to determine if someone was pregnant or not.
A 3,500 year old papyrus located in the
University of Copenhagen details the New
Kingdom’s methods for pregnancy detection.
Swnws, which were essentially doctors, would
instruct a woman to plant barley and emmer
seeds in separate plots, and urinate on them.
If the barley grew, then she should expect a boy,
if the emmer grew, then she should expect a girl,
and if neither grew, then she wasn’t pregnant.
And that worked?
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that
wheat and barley watered with urine from men and non-pregnant
women would not sprout, but the same grains watered
with urine from pregnant women sprouted 70% of the time.
That being said, the grains could
not determine the sex of the child.
Their theory was that the increased levels of
estrogen in their urine would help the seeds sprout.
A good millenia later, came the “Piss Prophets.”
Early physicians who claimed to be able to predict the
nature of a pregnancy based on their readings of pee.
These “uromancers” would swirl, mix, smell, and even
taste their patients urine to predict their future.
To determine a pregnancy, they would dip a needle into it, and
if the needle rusted or turned black, the woman was pregnant.
I’ll be honest, I can’t find any sources of how
accurate this technique was, but my guess is not very.
God, Brew, what’s with all the pee stuff?
First the elevator thing, and now this?
Technically, this is Churry Povich’s fault.
There are a ton of folk techniques to
determine if you’re pregnant or not.
But the first reliable test able to provide answers with up
to 99% accuracy was invented in 1927, by German scientists
Bernhard Zondek and Selmar Aschheim who called it the
“A-Z Test”, which required human urine to be injected into
the bodies of immature female mice for a few days, then
dissecting them to see if their ovaries had grown larger.
What’s worse is that a few years later, in 1949, a
new version of the test debuted at the University of
Pennsylvania, but instead of using mice, used rabbits.
It worked the exact same way, but was significantly more
popular among culture at large, so much so that the phrase
“the rabbit died” became a euphemism for being pregnant.
In reality, the rabbits always died, because, like
mice, they needed to be dissected to get an answer.
At the time the test was in full swing, over 6000 rabbits were
slaughtered per year in a single pregnancy diagnosis center.
It was around this time that hormone theory began
to make its way around the scientific community.
In the 1960’s, instead of injecting things willy nilly into
rabbits and mice, scientists started using immunoassays,
tests that would react to hormones in urine from patients.
In this case, they were searching for hCG, or Human
Chorionic Gonadotropin, a hormone that the body
produces when a fertilized egg attaches to the
lining of the uterus at the beginning of pregnancy.
If the hCG clumped in a specific way, scientists
could tell if one was pregnant or not.
Unfortunately this test wasn’t that accurate,
and led to many false positives, because other
hormones could easily be confused for hCG.
A quick decade later in 1972 came a more accurate
version of the immunoassay test which used a specially
treated strip to determine the level of hCG in urine.
It was these tests that would go on to become the
little plastic sticks that we know them to be today.
Some brands claim to be able to give
you an answer faster than others.
hCG doubles in amount every 36-48 hours, and peaks
at 8-10 weeks into a pregnancy, so tests that
claim to give you answers earlier are just designed
to react to lower levels of hCG than others.
How does this at all have to do with peeing on frogs?
You remember the mice and the rabbits, right?
What about them?
In the early 20th century, around the same time “A-Z”
tests were used on mice, British Scientist Lancelot
Hogben was working on hormone theory in South Africa.
This is where he met a little amphibian that would change
his life and the course of human history: Xenopus laevis,
or the African Clawed Frog, which lived peacefully in
sub-saharan for millions of years… until Hogben arrived.
Hogben injected an extract from the
ox’s pituitary gland into the frog.
and discovered that it made the creature lay eggs.
This was a watershed moment for the scientific community,
since it had just been revealed that the urine of pregnant
women contained hormones produced in the pituitary gland.
If those hormones produced in humans could
trigger the same egg laying action in the frogs,
then they would become living pregnancy tests.
How is this any better?
The benefit of the “Hogben Test” was that it didn’t
require the frogs to be dissected afterwards.
His colleague Charles Bellerby, proved that the
African Clawed Frog did not lay eggs spontaneously
when they’re not mating, and they would reliably lay
eggs when injected with the urine of a pregnant woman.
One doctor even wrote to Hogben’s team saying “Thank
you for your report on the pregnancy test on Mrs. X.
You may be interested to know that of one GP of many
years’ standing, one specialist gynaecologist and one
frog, only the frog was correct.” The frogs could live up
to 30 years, and the tests weren’t as hard on them as the
rabbits and mice, so they could be relied on for years.
Since then, we’ve moved away from living pregnancy tests.
For most of us, I'm sure that the topic of animal
testing will conjure up some conflicting feelings.
However, most of the life-saving research we have today is
owed to these practices, and to the individuals responsible.
Right this second, vaccines are being
developed for a variety of things.
To ensure these vaccines are safe, legally, they
must be tested on animals prior to human trials.
That being said, much like any science, animal testing
today is a much more humane endeavor than it once was.
The folks who work in these fields obviously appreciate
the gravity of their work, but many of them still do
care about the welfare of the animals being tested on.
That's why we have "The Three R's"
of Humane Animal Experimentation.
These R's stand for: replacement, reduction, and refinement.
Replacement, as the name suggests, refers to the replacing
or avoidance of animal testing whenever possible.
If an animal study is absolutely necessary, then
replacement can also refer to replacing that animal
with one considered less sentient—they may elect
to use an invertebrate species like a nematode.
Reduction is to ensure that the strategy behind
the research will result in the fewest amount of
animals tested on in order to get the data required.
And Refinement relates to the measures taken to
improve the animal's welfare during such trials.
That means giving them the best possible living
conditions from the day they're born, to the day they die.
But they still die?
…And medicine helps people.
Yeah I don’t know how to feel on this one.
I think that's the main take-away here.
Like coffee, science can be bold and beautiful, but I’ll be
the first to say that it can also be pretty bitter sometimes.