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Author Topic: Biological Fuel Cells?
D.W.
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So apparently life is imitating art and we are on track for the Matrix after all. Not some cool VR innovation but turning living creatures into power supplies.

Fuel Cells Powered by Roach Blood May Someday Lead to Useful Network of Cybugs

Interesting yet creepy as hell. In case people were bored of our usual discussion fodder.

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Back in 2012, researchers from North Carolina detailed a system whereby they could remotely control a cockroach via an embedded chip, forcing the cockroach to move wherever they wanted it to. Now, a team of scientists from Japan’s Osaka University and the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology has seemingly improved on that work, by figuring out how to power that technology using the roaches’ own blood. Simply put, the bug-mounted fuel cell creates electricity using sugar in the cockroach’s blood, thereby creating a roach-powered fuel source that doesn’t need to be replaced for long periods.

The goal of all this research is a bit more goodhearted than just remote-controlled roach racing, with plans to create a network of sensors to transmit information in dire circumstances. Using robo-roaches, rescue teams could, say, investigate a building after an earthquake by way of the insect-mounted sensors. Flying insects like the roach are resilient and able to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. Now if only we could make them a little less disgusting.

OK, so these fuel cells only generate enough power the roach control device, right? Hardly revolutionary in terms of fuel generation, unless we strap one to a whale. And the battery weight savings can't be that significant unless we're talking very long run control of the roach. In which case we'd need to strap roach cameras on them as well.

Wonder if you could get robo-roaches to cyborgize other normal roaches. You will be assimilated. Click.

What do you do with long-term roach control? Perhaps control them via computer and use them to map out tunnels and such, mining excavation ... wonder what natural roach senses might come in handy.

Maybe use them to drop pellets that exterminate hives of roaches.

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JoshuaD
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I don't like the moral implications of this at all. We shouldn't do this, IMO.
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Pete at Home
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Dude, they are roaches. If we were doing it to Dolphins, I'd agree.
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JoshuaD
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I'd be much more outraged if they were dolphins. I still think it's wrong to do to roaches. Have you ever looked at the creatures up close? They're incredible.

A friend of mine works at a bug museum and he tells me that roaches don't appear to process pain the way we do, so I'm not sure what to think of that. I do think they are living creatures that have some small amount of sentience, and so they should be respected when possible. Rightly or wrongly, I value their life less than I value the life of a mammal or reptile, but I do still value their life enough not to use them as a power source.

If roaches are OK but dolphins are not, where exactly is the line for you?

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D.W.
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How do you expect Jones to "loop it" without cybernetics Pete? Now yer just being silly.
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Pete at Home
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Oh, well as for the power source thing, I don't have a problem with it being used on dolphins or even on humans, for that matter, so long as the device being powered isn't interfering with the creature's whole life. Dolphins have the ability to play, so should be allowed to. I suppose if cockroaches played games, I'd feel worse about enslaving them. We do enslave horses, and I do feel a bit bad about that, and better when we treat them well and give them some measure of freedom to frolic, even if it's just part time.

Dogs and Llamas on the other hand seem to love being put to work and feeling useful.

Would you have a problem with someone getting an artificial heart that was powered by his own blood sugars? I wouldn't.

If there's any moral issue to what we're doing with cockroaches, it's cyborging them in the first place to take over their lives. Using their blood to power the device seems to me like a relative non-issue.

How do you break it down?

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LetterRip
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The problem with the Matrix is that it is always more energetically beneficial to convert the energy directly than to get it from humans.

Presumably the real purpose of the matrix was human brains as additional computing power.

Bioenergy for portable devices makes sense since it reduces hardware needs, and the need for changing batteries. Ie as a replacement for pacemaker or other implants (ocular, or in the future nerual prothesis or other cyborg organs) energy sources.

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Pete at Home
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Hang on. If I could recharge my cell phone through my blood sugar, wouldn't that increase my calorie consumption and cause me to lose weight?
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D.W.
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quote:
Presumably the real purpose of the matrix was human brains as additional computing power.
Maybe the computers were creating art and contemplating philosophy while the humans mined bitcoins?

To be honest I don't really break it down negatively. I think it's valuable technology particularly for things like artificial organs. It was mostly a diversionary tactic as the current discussions seemed repetitive and trending towards bickering.

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D.W.
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quote:
Hang on. If I could recharge my cell phone through my blood sugar, wouldn't that increase my calorie consumption and cause me to lose weight?
Too early to partner up for Cell-U-Lite phone pattens Pete?
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by D.W.:
quote:
Hang on. If I could recharge my cell phone through my blood sugar, wouldn't that increase my calorie consumption and cause me to lose weight?
Too early to partner up for Cell-U-Lite phone pattens Pete?
Nice. {clapclap}
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OpsanusTau
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Maybe off-topic, not sure:

quote:
roaches don't appear to process pain the way we do
Joshua what does this even mean?
I could see it meaning anything from "roaches don't display pain behaviors that are comprehensible as such to the human observer" to "insect nervous systems have some differences from mammalian nervous systems", or something else entirely. Anyways it seems like a potentially problematic statement to me in that it seems to have a clear meaning that could be used to guide decisions - but on further reflection, doesn't.

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JoshuaD
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quote:
Pete:
If there's any moral issue to what we're doing with cockroaches, it's cyborging them in the first place to take over their lives. Using their blood to power the device seems to me like a relative non-issue.

I agree; I think the cyborging of roaches is the primary problem. They are sentient creatures and they deserve more respect than to be treated like raw materials to be manipulated at whim.

quote:
Pete:Oh, well as for the power source thing, I don't have a problem with it being used on dolphins or even on humans, for that matter, so long as the device being powered isn't interfering with the creature's whole life.
I'm not quite sure what you mean by this one. If we attach stuff to a dolphin against its will for our own benefit and to the determent of the dolphin, I think we've done something wrong. I think this is also true for humans, dogs, mice, lizards, snakes, bees, and bugs.

quote:
Pete:Dolphins have the ability to play, so should be allowed to.
I don't think we have the right to "allow" dolphins to play.

quote:
Pete:I suppose if cockroaches played games, I'd feel worse about enslaving them.
We agree here in part and disagree here in part; We agree that we care less about the roach than we do about the dolphin. We disagree in that I still value the roach's life a great deal.

To be quite frank: I look at the roach and I see myself. I don't think we should enslave humans, and I similarly don't think we should enslave animals. Obviously there are distinct differences, and I think it is much worse to mistreat a human than a bug, but I see the roach as being fundamentally the same thing as me, on a smaller scale. (Whereas a plant or a rock are fundamentally different).

quote:
Pete:We do enslave horses, and I do feel a bit bad about that, and better when we treat them well and give them some measure of freedom to frolic, even if it's just part time.
Sometimes we do, sometimes we keep them as pets. I oppose the NYC horse carriages and the racing tracks, but I don't think every pet horse needs to be set free. When the animals are being mistreated and made to be unhappy, we're doing it wrong. When they're treated properly and made to be happy, we're doing it right.

quote:
Pete:
Dogs and Llamas on the other hand seem to love being put to work and feeling useful.

I agree; I think keeping pets is a fine thing.

quote:
Pete:
Would you have a problem with someone getting an artificial heart that was powered by his own blood sugars? I wouldn't.

No, this sounds great. (Far fetched right now, but I have no moral objection).

[ February 05, 2014, 01:51 AM: Message edited by: JoshuaD ]

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JoshuaD
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quote:
quote:
JoshuaD: ...roaches don't appear to process pain the way we do...
Ops: Joshua what does this even mean?
It's a mild concession, wrapped in a big "I don't know this is true and I don't think we can know" caveat.

I have been told that bugs don't experience pain the way humans do; that due to their physical makeup, they do not suffer as a result of physical damage like you and me. When I've seen this assertion made, it has been supported by two primary points: that there is no nervous system, and that they do not display any reactions to pain like a human might. A bug will continue to go about its day after being half crushed.

My entire quote was: "A friend of mine works at a bug museum and he tells me that roaches don't appear to process pain the way we do, so I'm not sure what to think of that. I do think they are living creatures that have some small amount of sentience, and so they should be respected when possible."

Which can be more explicitly expressed this way:

I have been told by a reputable source that bugs don't feel pain like humans do, and so doing harm to bugs isn't bad enough to be too concerned about.I believe that there must be some truth to this argument, but at the same time, I don't find it to be very compelling.

I don't believe we have the ability to measure the suffering of an alien species. Our ability to measure suffering in humans and other creatures is rooted in our own experiences of suffering. As the animal becomes less human-like, I think we lose our ability to have a meaningful discussion of whether it is or is not suffering.

The key thing for me is that I believe that the bug is more than a machine; there is something magic in its composition; there appears to be is perception and choice; there is the tiny spark of sentience. This magic is the same stuff that makes me and you special, and so I think we should try our best to respect it, even in a tiny bug.

To be clear: I'm not an absolutist. Sometimes we have to kill bugs, that's OK. The nature of this world is that we are killers. We are constantly killing, simply as a result of being alive. We can't stop that completely and I don't think it is correct to try. I just think we should avoid doing harm and killing whenever it is reasonably possible.

[ February 05, 2014, 01:54 AM: Message edited by: JoshuaD ]

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OpsanusTau
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It's just interesting because it wasn't very long ago that it was accepted as fact that livestock (cattle, sheep, chickens) don't feel pain the way we do, mostly because they don't display the same kind of pain behaviors that humans and other social predators display. But, of course, they have the same kind of nervous system and they feel (as far as it is possible to tell) the same pain - they just have different behaviors. (A little aside, one of my ongoing professional challenges is that often people who live with and care about their animals don't realize for days that the slightly weird thing their animal started doing is an indicator that the animal is in extreme pain, because they've never seen it do that before.)

As you said, it's hard to quantify "suffering" as distinct from pain in general - even among humans, the same stimulus could be a "3" for one person and a "6" for someone else - so I mostly don't. In fact there are circumstances when it is important to try to differentiate between "nociception" and "pain", but that may be beyond the scope of this conversation.

But regardless, insects DO have nervous systems, and they do have nociceptors - they have vanilloid receptors similar to those of vertebrates. And they also have behaviors that are associated with nociception, in other words probable pain behaviors.
Here is a paper
There are many more, of course.

Note, I'm not trying to say "we should never kill insects" or we shouldn't use them for various purposes, I just consider it my duty to work against the generally unfounded idea that nociception and pain not pretty universal to animals. Of course it is - failing to avoid damaging stimuli would be incredibly maladaptive.
Our use of non-human animals needs to take into account their presumed ability to feel pain.

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LetterRip
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JoshuaD,

in terms of sophistication of sensing and responding to noxious stimuli I'd put roaches and other insects closer to plants than to humans.

Some plants retract from noxious stimuli, they send out warning signals in response to being attacked, etc.

Bacterium also respond to noxious stimuli.

Ops,

I think processing and responding to noxious stimuli is not the same thing as 'feeling pain'. We can create robots that respond to all such nociception in similar methods that cockroaches and other insects do. Yet I don't think anyone would argue that modern robots 'feel' pain.

Also animals without completely developed nervous systems respond to noxious stimuli via simple reflex arcs.

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by JoshuaD:
quote:
Pete:
If there's any moral issue to what we're doing with cockroaches, it's cyborging them in the first place to take over their lives. Using their blood to power the device seems to me like a relative non-issue.

I agree; I think the cyborging of roaches is the primary problem. They are sentient creatures and they deserve more respect than to be treated like raw materials to be manipulated at whim.

quote:
Pete:
Would you have a problem with someone getting an artificial heart that was powered by his own blood sugars? I wouldn't.

No, this sounds great. (Far fetched right now, but I have no moral objection).

Sounds like we agree as to identification of the central moral issue.


quote:
Pete:Oh, well as for the power source thing, I don't have a problem with it being used on dolphins or even on humans, for that matter, so long as the device being powered isn't interfering with the creature's whole life.
-----
I'm not quite sure what you mean by this one. If we attach stuff to a dolphin against its will for our own benefit and to the determent of the dolphin, I think we've done something wrong. I think this is also true for humans, dogs, mice, lizards, snakes, bees, and bugs.

Hmm. Don't know if you meant it this way, but I agree with my reading of what you said, i.e. that it's the intersection of "against it's will" and "not to it's benefit" that make it wrong.

But as to that list, what about horses? We break them, put saddles on them, use them to plow. We milk cows. My brother would agree with the principles you've outlined, and he's vegan. Is that where you're coming from? (Not that it would discredit you if you were!!)


quote:
Pete:
Dogs and Llamas on the other hand seem to love being put to work and feeling useful.
----
I agree; I think keeping pets is a fine thing.

From my observation, work dogs (e.g. eskimo sled dogs) seem happier than mere pets. Dogs seem to have a craving to feel useful. And Llamas from what I hear, seem to love having a "sheepdog" role over a flock of sheep.


quote:
Pete:Dolphins have the ability to play, so should be allowed to.

---------
I don't think we have the right to "allow" dolphins to play.

Good point. But it's awfully convenient to have them at the zoo where my kids can see them. I wonder how they feel about that. Whales OTOH definitely seem too cramped.



quote:
Pete:I suppose if cockroaches played games, I'd feel worse about enslaving them. -----
We agree here in part and disagree here in part; We agree that we care less about the roach than we do about the dolphin. We disagree in that I still value the roach's life a great deal.


To be quite frank: I look at the roach and I see myself. I don't think we should enslave humans, and I similarly don't think we should enslave animals. Obviously there are distinct differences, and I think it is much worse to mistreat a human than a bug, but I see the roach as being fundamentally the same thing as me, on a smaller scale. (Whereas a plant or a rock are fundamentally different).

I actually feel much more sympathy for some plants, especially trees, than I would for a roach or hornet or wasp. The latter I loathe viscerally, because I've seen what they do to bees, which I feel a strange kinship for.
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scifibum
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quote:
From my observation, work dogs (e.g. eskimo sled dogs) seem happier than mere pets. Dogs seem to have a craving to feel useful. And Llamas from what I hear, seem to love having a "sheepdog" role over a flock of sheep.
Domesticated animals are a pretty different case, in my opinion. We have bred work dogs that like/need to work, so at this point it's more humane to keep them working than otherwise. But we created that situation for our own ends, and can continue to serve our own ends by keeping them at work. We bred willing slaves (by killing or limiting the reproductive success of the ones who were less desirable). What's the moral thing to do with them now? I think it's a more complicated question than how we treat wild animals with a similar mental sophistication.

I do think it's probably wrong to keep as idle pets animals that we created to need to be active, though. (I'm not sure that they need to be useful - they just need activity and approval and it happens to be a more symbiotic relationship when they are working.)

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Pete at Home
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As llamas were domesticated in South America while sheep hail iirc from the middle east and didn't come to Americas until the 1500s, it seems unlikely that their shepherding skill and propensity is a product of selective breeding.

But I like your moral reasoning.

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OpsanusTau
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quote:
I think processing and responding to noxious stimuli is not the same thing as 'feeling pain'. [...]
Also animals without completely developed nervous systems respond to noxious stimuli via simple reflex arcs.

(I hope that you're saying this stuff to explain to others, and not to explain to me. Although I guess it doesn't matter that much either way.)

As always, I try to walk the line between being informative and clear about what I'm trying to say, and being hopelessly technical and really boring and confusing. It's a challenge, and I often fail in one direction or the other, but sometimes I just keep trying.

Take any given mammal with a particular kind of spinal injury and apply a noxious stimulus to the distal hindlimb, and you will produce a local-spinal reflex (that is nociception) but without any central awareness or reaction (that is pain, by the clinical definition we generally use).

It can be very difficult in any animal that can't talk to you to figure out if the animal is "feeling pain". "Suffering" is a whole step or two further and as I said, I don't even generally go there.

The existence of nociceptor-motor neuron reflex arcs in a given kind of organism doesn't mean that the organism does not also feel pain. I think of that as obvious but of course on reflection maybe it's not. I am not aware of any kind of animal that does have a central nervous system that does not have local reflex arcs. The existence of local reflex arcs merely means that it is important not to confuse a local reflex with a central expression of pain. In order not to be confused like that, a reasonable knowledge of neuroanatomy is required; knowing where the reflex arc occurs, we can say that a repeatable reaction at a different site is an indicator of central awareness of noxious stimulus (in other words, pain).

Example:
I pinch a dog's toe, and the dog pulls its foot away from me - withdrawal reflex
I pinch a dog's toe, and the dog bites me - pain

Now I'm done talking about neuroanatomy.

~~~~~~~

Scifibum - consider the alternate story in which domestication is not something that humans do to other animals, but is instead a collaborative act between two species.

This was most powerfully illustrated for me when I saw the Werner Herzog movie Grizzly Man. Tim is in the wilderness filming the bears and I look at the bears and I have no idea what's going on in there, what they'll do next. But there's this interlude with a fox. The fox is also a wild animal, but Tim is able to play with the fox and have sort of a charming ongoing relationship with it. It's not because the fox is domesticated, of course - he's not. It's because Tim is human, and humans are domesticated to canids, so Tim was able to understand the fox's body language and to a certain extent communicate back.

Anyways the best evidence on dogs is that they domesticated themselves to humans - started as scavengers on the outskirts of villages (and indeed, many of them are still right there doing that very thing, as those of us who have spent time in villages in the developing world can testify) and some of them with the smallest flight distance from humans became the parents of dogs that became our companions.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More general question:

People - even people here on this very thread - seem to have extremely different sets of emotions about which organisms it is okay to exploit/enslave/work-together-with and which ones we ought to "care more about" (or identify more strongly with). Some people won't eat mammals; for reasons that I won't go into, I don't like to eat cephalopods or gastropods.

So are any of these emotions an appropriate guide for ethical decisions, or should the decisions be based on other information?

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Pete at Home
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To expand on what OT said, I don't regard pain or mobility as key invokers of my sympathy.

A leper loses ability to feel pain, but that doesn't make the leper less sldeserving of human sympathy.

A paralyzed man loses ability to move, but I'm still sympathetic.

Truthfully I'm more concerned with the cutting down of a healthy 1000 year old tree than the life of a method and heroin addict brain damaged beyond capacity to speak, shrieking wordlessly for more dope.

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scifibum
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quote:
Scifibum - consider the alternate story in which domestication is not something that humans do to other animals, but is instead a collaborative act between two species.

This was most powerfully illustrated for me when I saw the Werner Herzog movie Grizzly Man. Tim is in the wilderness filming the bears and I look at the bears and I have no idea what's going on in there, what they'll do next. But there's this interlude with a fox. The fox is also a wild animal, but Tim is able to play with the fox and have sort of a charming ongoing relationship with it. It's not because the fox is domesticated, of course - he's not. It's because Tim is human, and humans are domesticated to canids, so Tim was able to understand the fox's body language and to a certain extent communicate back.

Anyways the best evidence on dogs is that they domesticated themselves to humans - started as scavengers on the outskirts of villages (and indeed, many of them are still right there doing that very thing, as those of us who have spent time in villages in the developing world can testify) and some of them with the smallest flight distance from humans became the parents of dogs that became our companions.

That's pretty interesting stuff. Still, I think a lot of the breeds we are working with reflect the preferences/interests of the people who bred them, not so much that the animals chose to become better at herding (or having loose wrinkly skin).
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scifibum
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I'm not really all that bothered by the ethics of dogs, but I think it's a somewhat interesting layer to the ethics of how we deal with them. More so when it comes to ongoing breeding efforts. But of course, some breeding is worse than other breeding. (I'm fairly convinced that dog show breeding is downright unethical and that whole subculture ought to die out.)
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Pete at Home
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Dogs seem to have this incredible inborn desire to please humans. Probably adapted from the whole pack leader/follower instincts. and maybe we've adapted to have some dog leader traits. I even noticed that my dog Genghis would respond more quickly to a deeper voice, just like a child, even though he liked Exile much better.
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OpsanusTau
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Scifi it sounds like you read that NYTimes Magazine article about English Bulldogs a year or two ago. [Wink]
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scifibum
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Not sure but it is likely . I have read a number of things about overbred dogs and various health problems they have.
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