When Nabil Koney dissected a pig during his freshman year of high school, he says the most memorable part of the experience was the smell.
That wasn’t a problem when the now senior dissected a synthetic frog, but he says the “wet and slimy” creature felt like a real amphibian.
His school, J.W. Mitchell High School in New Port Richey, Florida, is taking a new approach to this rite-of-passage educational experience: an anatomically-correct synthetic frog that teaches students about organ systems without harming living animals or using hazardous chemicals like formaldehyde.
SynFrogs attempt to mimic the anatomy of a real frog with skin that looks and feels like live tissue. The frogs’ skin and removable organs are realistic in size and color.
“When you bring these synthetic frogs into the actual classroom, nobody is going to be off-put by the fact that it was alive because it's synthetic, of course,” Koney says. “So I think that reduces some of the barriers for some of the other students in the classroom.”
Principal Jessica Schultz says her school used to buy between 200 to 300 frogs per year from a scientific supply company. Now, she says the first-of-its-kind synthetic SynFrogs give her students a “superior” anatomy lesson.
For example, when students cut open a real female frog, the egg sac can break and leave debris to clean up. Using a synthetic frog prevents this extra step, she says.
“When you cut it open, you have to cut the breastbone of the synthetic frog just as hard and put as much pressure as you would on a regular frog,” she says.
On a visit to her veterinarian, Dr. David Danielson, he told Schultz about how his daughter didn’t want to dissect a frog in biology class. Schultz and her colleagues later helped Danielson’s company, Tampa-based SynDaver, design a synthetic frog that meets Florida’s standards.
SynFrogs cost $150 each, but unlike real frogs, the company recycles the used specimens.
Plus, schools switching to synthetic frogs is good news for the vulnerable animals: A deadly fungus has pushed hundreds of amphibian species toward extinction over the past 50 years.
“Once a student is finished with the frog, we gather them up and we send them back to the company,” she says. “And they complete whatever process they complete and they create new frogs.”
This segment aired on January 2, 2020.