Head shot of Thom

About Thom

Research Areas: Bioinformatics, Computational Biology
Specialised Knowledge
Medical Genomics
Current Position: PhD Candidate, Deakin University, Australia
Qualifications: Doctor of Medicine (MD)
Has Worked In: USA, Australia

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Meet Thom Quinn

I grew up in the outskirts of New York City where the suburban becomes rural. I spent a lot of time wondering outside and fell in love with natural history at a young age. I studied molecular biology and clinical medicine at university in United States. Currently, I live in Geelong, Victoria, Australia where I am a PhD student in Bioinformatics (as of 2017). I am motivated to study by an interest in learning how we can use genetic data to improve medical diagonostics, prognostics, and therapeutics. I am also interested in understanding the molecular mechanism through which genetic and environmental factors interact to cause psychological unease.

What is your current research focus?

My main role now is working with mathematicians and biologists to develop new ways to analyze genetic data. I am what they call a “dry lab” biologist, which means my research revolves around (re-)analyzing data sets collected by other biologists. I study a genetic element known as messenger RNA, ubiquitous and dynamic molecules that helps turn DNA (the “blueprint” of the cell) into protein (the “building” of the cell).

Why are you vegan?

I have followed a vegetarian diet for over a decade now. I first stopped eating meat because I was unable to disconnect my meat consumption from animal slaughter. Eventually, I adopted a vegan diet to further protest the commercial exploitation of animals for food.

How does a vegan ethic influence the research you conduct?

As a biologist, a lot (but not all) career opportunities involve animal testing. Computational biology is an unambigious exception. As a bioinformatician (analyzing mostly human and cell line data), I am able to work as a productive member of the scientific community without contradicting my core values.

How do you think a vegan ethic can contribute to research and science?

Following a vegan ethic does impose a constraint on biological research in that it excludes animal testing as an option. However, analogous to how eliminating meat from our diets pushes us to get more creative with what we eat, eliminating animal testing from our methods pushes us to get more creative with how we design experiments. In other words, I think the vegan ethic gives me a reason to look into new and interesting alternatives to the methods (and meals!) that others use simply by default.

How do you think research and science in your field can contribute to ending the oppression of non-human animals?

We are fortunate in modern science that our ability to culture human cells on a Peetri dish has already rendered a lot of animal testing unnecessary. In studying disease, we once had to rely on animals to model the disease and then infer whether it applied to humans; now, we can grow diseased human tissue in a lab and study it directly. Bio-reactors (for example, sythetic human gut systems) will make animal testing even more obsolete.

Also, I believe a lot of research groups under-utilize the data they collect. I am hopeful about the movement to make data “open” (i.e., free and accessible to all), allowing other research groups to re-analyze old data from past animal studies without needing to repeat animal testing themselves.

What piece of research related to veganism has most influenced you?

Although not related to veganism directly, research into the emotional complexity of non-human apes have had a profound impact on how I think about the intelligence of other conscious life. The studies here all seem to point to the (obvious?) fact that other animals experience joy, sorrow, and pain in much the same way we do.

How does your research contribute to ending the oppression of non-human animals?

My research does not work toward this goal per se, but I hope that my identity as a vegan researcher does. Although biology has historically benefited from the exploitation of animals for scientific gain, this field has a tremendous opportunity to re-define itself for the 21st century. I am hopeful that young veg*n scientists will let their ethics and politics shape what it means to be a biologist. As a collective body, veg*n scientists have the power to change the culture of science.

Would you like to add anything else?

To all veg*ns interested in biology, I hope that you do not get discouraged by the ubiquity of animal testing in the field. Instead, look for one of the many spaces in which you can conduct science in line with your ethics, then embrace the challenge to change the culture from within.