Frequently Asked Questions regarding animal ethics for Researchers at the University of Newcastle

FAQ

Use of Animals for Research and Teaching Purposes

  1. What is the Animal Care and Ethics Committee (ACEC)?
  2. Am I required to seek ACEC approval when using animals for research/teaching purposes?
  3. Why do I need approval from the ACEC?
  4. Which application form do I use?
  5. Where can I get an application form from?
  6. What is the process for completing an animal ethics application?
  7. How do I fill in the application form?
  8. What are the key areas of information that I need to include in my application?
  9. What do I do when my application form is completed?
  10. When should I lodge my application?
  11. Am I able to submit a late application?
  12. How do I lodge my application?
  13. What happens after I submit my application?
  14. How will I know what has happened to my application?
  15. What if there are problems with my application?
  16. What are the common problems with applications?
  17. What does approval from the ACEC cover?
  18. What is 'Animal Research Authority'?
  19. How long is approval for?
  20. How do I get renewal of approval?
  21. Do I need approval if I make changes to my project?
  22. What if it is a minor variation?
  23. What is a major variation?
  24. How do I get renewed approval?
  25. What if I need approval for a change before the next ACEC meeting?
  26. When can I obtain my animals?
  27. How do I get my animals?
  28. Where do I get my animals from?
  29. How do I transfer animals from one project to another?
  30. What are my responsibilities during the conduct of the project?
  31. What if something goes wrong with an animal during the conduct of a Project?
  32. What are the guidelines surrounding the use of tissues from cadavers, or tissue sharing?
  33. More information and contacts

Questions or Suggestions

If you have any suggestions as to how this page may be improved, your input would be appreciated. Please contact the Animal Ethics Officer.


1. What is the Animal Care and Ethics Committee (ACEC)?

The Animal Care and Ethics Committee (ACEC) is a Committee established by the University in accordance with NSW legislation. It's membership includes the following categories:

  • Category A: Veterinarians
  • Category B: Researchers experienced with the use of animals for scientific or teaching purposes
  • Category C: Members who are members of or are nominated by an animal welfare organisation
  • Category D: Independent members who are not associated with animal-based research, and not associated with the institution except under defined circumstances.

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2. Am I required to seek ACEC approval when using animals for research/teaching purposes?

You will need approval from the ACEC if you propose to undertake a research or teaching project, product testing or other experimental study in which animals are used. An animal is defined as any vertebrate (other than a human being) and includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.

ACEC approval is obtained by the Chief Investigator on behalf of all those involved with animals on a particular project. The Chief Investigator must be a member of staff of the University or other Accredited Research Establishments for which the University of Newcastle ACEC acts as the nominated ACEC.

What about students?
When a project involves a student proceeding to a higher degree, the Chief Investigator listed in the application must be the student's supervisor. For a practical class involving the use of animals, the staff member responsible for that class is the Chief Investigator. The group of students participating in the class is identified by the Chief Investigator in the application to the ACEC and is covered by the ACEC approval. However, the responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of the information contained in that application rests solely with the Chief Investigator.

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3. Why do I need approval from the Animal Care and Ethics Committee (ACEC)?

The NSW Animal Research Act (1985) and the Animal Research Regulation (1995) stipulate that approval must be obtained from the institutional Animal Care and Ethics Committee (ACEC) before animals are used for research or teaching.

This legislation was introduced to protect the welfare of animals, by ensuring that their use in research and teaching is always humane, considerate, responsible and justified.

NSW legislation incorporates the NHMRC Australian Code of Practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (7th edition 2004).

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4. Which Application Form do I use?

  • Initial Application form - For new projects.Under NSW legislation an Animal Research Authority may be issued for a maximum of one year.
  • Annual Progress Report/Renewal Application form - For annual review and renewal of approval for an ongoing project. Research projects that require continuation of ethical approval beyond the initial 12 months need an annual renewal/progress report application.
  • Variation Application form (Change to the approved protocol) - For minor variations or amendments to an approved project only.I.e. when the amendment to the approved protocol does not change the classification of the severity of the experiments,and where the ethical implications of the variation have already been considered as part of the Initial Application for the project.
  • Variation Application form (Addition of person) - To add an investigator or teacher to those authorised to use animals on an approved project.
  • Final Report - This report is required on completion or discontinuation of an approved project.

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5. Where can I get an Application form from?

All application forms for the ACEC can be downloaded from the Application Forms and Procedures page.

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6. What is the process for completing an animal ethics Application?

 Before obtaining approval for research projects involving animals, you should first:

  • Question if you need to use animals at all - Do the potential benefits of the research justify animal use? Think about alternatives e.g. computer simulations, cell culture techniques.
  • Can you use cadaver tissue? The use of tissue from freshly euthanased animals by a researcher is a legitimate mechanism for reducing the number of animals required for research/teaching purposes and this practice is encouraged. See Question 32 below for further information.
  • Consider the expected effects on the animals - You should examine, step by step, the expected effects on the animals of each treatment or procedure in the proposed protocol (e.g. substances, dose rates, routes, volumes, anaesthetics, surgical procedures, restraint etc). In addition, assess other factors that will impact on the welfare of the animals (e.g. housing, environmental factors, duration of use). If the project will cause the animals any pain and distress that cannot be minimised, consider again whether it is necessary to use animals.
  • Talk to the Veterinary Manager of the Animal Services Unit - The Veterinary Manager, Animal Services Unit, will be able to advise you on the availability of animals, whether they will be of the appropriate biological status and whether, given the facilities available, they can be appropriately housed.
  • Consult with a statistician - A statistician may assist you in designing the experiment to ensure that the maximum amount of valid information is obtained from the minimum number of animals.

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7. How do I fill in the application form?

  • First, consult the Application Guidelines - The guidelines provide advice on the type of information required by the legislation and by the University ACEC.
  • Allow sufficient time for completion - Completion of the application form will probably take longer than you think. Questions contained in the form may raise issues which you have not previously considered and hence may require some investigation.
  • Answer all questions as completely as possible - Because of the legislation, applications have a formal status. Applications should be typed and all questions answered. If a question is not relevant, please write 'Not Applicable'.

Remember to use 'Plain English' - Under NSW legislation all ACEC members must be provided with sufficient information to allow for their participation in the assessment of applications. Since the ACEC is composed of people who are not experts in your field, this can only be achieved by communicating (by writing) in Plain English in the application.

To communicate effectively, write using everyday language, that can be understood by a interested, intelligent person without a scientific background. Assume those assessing your application have either no medical scientific background or no knowledge of your area of research and avoid using scientific jargon or unexplained abbreviations.

The need for plain English is especially important for your description of the aims of your project. Where the use of scientific terminology is unavoidable, you should consider providing an explanation of these terms or include a glossary. A glossary is to be used for scientific terminology where lay terms are not available but not as a substitute for lay language.

Common reasons why approval for an application is often delayed is one's failure to adequately describe a project in non-technical terms and the failure to clearly state the hypothesis.

  • Attachments & Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) - Omission of essential information is a common cause of delays in the processing of an application. Attachments have been developed for specific procedures and situations to ensure that your application includes the required information pertaining to that procedure or situation. You only need to complete those that are applicable to your project. You may choose to develop a Standard Operating Procedure for a procedure that can be used to replace an attachment or a number of attachments to the application form. 
  • Go through the checklist included in the instruction pages of the form - The aim of this checklist is to ensure that all relevant information has been provided to the ACEC. 
  • Amend your application as necessary - The checklist may highlight areas of your application that may need to be modified or expanded.

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8. What are the key areas of information that I need to include in my application?

Based upon the information that you provide in your application, members of the ACEC should know:

  • The justification for the animal use
  • What will happen to the animals and in what time-frame
  • How what is being done with the animals will affect their welfare
  • Replacement  - Have all possible alternatives to the proposed animal use been considered and the reasons for their non-use provided?
  • Refinement - Which specific aspects of the project contribute to the impact on animal welfare and how will the impact of these aspects of the project be minimised?
  • Reduction - Has it been explained why the proposed numbers are optimal to achieve the desired outcomes?

If you require assistance with your application to Animal Ethics than please contact:

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9. What do I do when my application form is completed?

  • Check again - It may be helpful to give your application to a colleague or assistant, in your own or an unrelated department. If a person who is not an expert in your field can understand your application, then you have probably written your answers in a form that will be understandable to all members of the Committee.
  • Pre-review of your draft application - Review of your draft application prior to its submission to the ACEC can facilitate the approval process as areas of your application that may be incomplete can be detected and addressed before its formal consideration by the ACEC. For further information visit the Obtaining Approval for Animal Research page.
  • Who can submit an application? The application must be submitted by the Chief Investigator who will be deemed responsible for the welfare of the animals approved under the application. The Alternate Chief Investigator is also authorised to submit an application. If the Chief Investigator or Alternative Chief Investigator is unavailable to submit an application please contact the Animal Ethics Officer.
  • Save your application and any relevant attachments or Standard Operating Procedures as a single document file - To prepare your document for electronic submission via email, you must save your application, and any relevant attachments, monitoring checklists, Standard Operating Procedures or documents as a single document file. Save your document as a Rich Text Format or Microsoft Word file. The animal details spreadsheet may be submitted as a separate document.

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10. When should I lodge my application?

The submission deadline for applications is normally 2 and a half weeks prior to an ordinary meeting.

See the information regarding meeting dates and application submission deadlines on the Obtaining Approval page.

All electronic documents are to be received by Research Services by 5:00 pm on the closing date for the relevant meeting. If all documents are not received, consideration of the application will not proceed.

Forward Planning - Applications should be completed and forwarded to the ACEC well before you plan to start your project. This allows sufficient time for processing by the Committee and for animals to be ordered by the Animal Services Unit.

If an application is submitted by the appropriate deadline and is approved at the following meeting, the minimum time-span from lodgement to approval is approximately 4 weeks.

Delays in approval can be expected if the information provided is insufficient, incomplete or presented in scientific and/or technical language. You can minimise delays by attending the meeting to discuss your application with the Committee.

Example: You require 8 week old mice for an experiment to start on 1 August
To obtain 8 week old mice for the 1st of August, you will need to place an order for these animals 12 weeks prior to that date  i.e. at the beginning of May. This allows for the minimum 1 week for mating of parent stock animals, a 3 week gestation period and then 8 weeks for the animals to reach the required age.

Since ACEC approval is required before animals can be ordered, you will need approval for your project by the beginning of May. If you need ACEC approval by the beginning of May, you will need to submit your application at the beginning of April, so that it may be considered and approved at the meeting of the Committee held on the last Friday in April.

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11. Am I able to submit a late Application?

Applications for consideration at a particular meeting are normally circulated to ACEC members one week prior to the meeting. This allows members sufficient reading time, and to consult with applicants as necessary. If your application is submitted after initial circulation, it will not be considered until the next ordinary meeting.

Your application may be circulated as a supplementary paper for an ordinary meeting, only if you provide a written justification for such consideration i.e. why you cannot wait for the next ordinary meeting.

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12. How do I lodge my application?

To make an application to the University of Newcastle ACEC see the page Obtaining Approval and refer to the information listed under 'Submission Instructions'.

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13. What happens after I submit my application?

  •  Acknowledgement of receipt - You will receive an email acknowledgement of receipt of your application. This will also inform you of the date of the meeting at which the Committee will consider your application.
  • Invitation to the Committee meeting - Upon the request of the Chief Investigator (CI), when submitting an initial application, an invitation can be extended to the CI (or their representative) to attend the meeting of the Committee to discuss their application and to answer any questions that may arise. Other investigators and additional personnel associated with the project are always welcome.

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14. How will I know what has happened to my application?

Within a few days of the meeting at which the ACEC considers your application, you will receive written notification of the decision of the Committee.

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15. What if there are problems with my application?

Additional information or modifications of the project may be required by the ACEC before approval can be granted.

  • Attend the Committee meeting - By attending the ACEC meeting, you will be able to answer any questions that members may have regarding your application. Thus, delays or misunderstandings may be circumvented.

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16. What are the common problems with Applications?

Common problems with applications that may result in delays of approval include:

  • the application is not written in plain English,
  • the use of animals is not adequately justified,
  • the severity of the procedures in not adequately justified,
  • the use of non-animal alternatives is not adequately addressed,
  • there is inadequate or insufficient information, especially with respect to procedures,
  • there is inadequate information about how animals will be monitored or how any adverse effects will be managed,
  • peer review of the scientific value of the project is not obtained,
  • for projects involving more than one species, information is provided for only one species,
  • a monitoring checklist is not provided and
  • the animal details spreadsheet is not provided.

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17. What does approval from the ACEC cover?

Approval from the ACEC covers only those animals, procedures and techniques that are described in your application.

In addition, only those persons who have been listed in the application are permitted to work with animals on the project. Prior approval must be obtained from the ACEC before you proceed with any changes to the approved protocol.

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18. What is 'Animal Research Authority'?

Prior to commencement of your research the NSW Animal Research Act requires you to have:

  1. Approval from an Animal Care and Ethics Committee AND
  2. Authorisation from your institution to carry out animal research for the purpose of a particular research project. This authorisation is provided in the form of an 'Animal Research Authority'. The Authority is issued by your institution on the recommendation of the ACEC.

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19. How long is approval for?

Under the legislation, approval from the ACEC is valid for a period determined by the Committee, but which cannot be for a period of more than 12 months. The exact period of approval is detailed in the Animal Research Authority issued by your institution.

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20. How do I get renewal of approval?

Approval for a project that continues for longer than 12 months may be renewed following submission of a renewal application to the ACEC. The renewal application process also fulfils the legislative requirement for submission of annual progress reports to the ACEC for continuing projects.

Renewal of approval is obtained via submission of Annual Progress Report/Renewal Application to the ACEC. You must obtain renewal of approval for your project before its current approval has expired. If approval has expired before the next scheduled meeting of the ACEC, an initial application must be submitted to the ACEC.

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21. Do I need approval if I make changes to my project?

Since approval for your project covers only those details and procedures described in your initial application, you must seek approval for any change to these details or procedures, no matter how minor. This approval must be obtained before you proceed with any change. Prior approval must also be obtained for another person who was not listed in the Animal Research Authority to work with animals on the project.

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22. What if it is a minor variation?

In general, a variation to an approved project is considered to be minor if that variation does not change the classification of the severity of the experiment (described in full in the guidelines to the initial application).

Examples might include:

  • Minor change to the number of animals required. A example of a minor increase in animal numbers is usually 10% or less, for proposals with 250+ animals. The determination of whether an increase in animal numbers is minor or significant is at the discretion of the ACEC.
  • Change to the strain or age of animals required.
  • Change in the dose rate or route of administration of a substance.
  • Change in the type of anaesthetic drug to be administered.
  • Changes to housing or monitoring arrangements.

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23. What is a major variation?

In general, a variation to an approved project is considered to be major if that variation results in a change to the classification of the severity of the experiment and where the ethical implications of the variation had already been considered as part of the Initial Application for the project.

Examples might include:

  • A change in the direction of the project, particularly with respect to the stated aims of the project as outlined in the original Initial Application.
  • A significant change to the procedures to be performed. For example:
    • Procedures under anaesthesia where the project previously involved only the removal of tissues following euthanasia.
    • Surgical procedures with recovery where the project previously involved surgical procedures without recovery.
  • Addition of a laparotomy to a project involving only blood collection.
  • A significant increase in the number of animals required. The determination of whether the increase in animal numbers is minor or significant is at the discretion of the ACEC.

Track changes used on the Initial Application is the acceptable format for submission of a major variation. This allows the ACEC to understand where the changes fit within the original Initial Application. A covering letter is also required outlining the description of the amendment, how it will fit within the currently approved protocol and justification for the change.

An Animal Details spreadsheet is also required if there is a change to the animal numbers. The Animal Details spreadsheet can be downloaded from the Application Forms and Procedures page.

If you are unsure as to whether the change to your project is classed as a minor or major change, please contact the Animal Ethics Officer.

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24. How do I get renewed approval?

You will need to submit a Variation Application form - Either the form for the addition of a person or the form for a minor variation to the approved protocol. If there are substantial modifications to the project (i.e. major variations) a new INITIAL application will be required. Submission procedures are identical to those for other types of applications. In normal circumstances, your application will be considered by the ACEC at its next meeting.

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25. What if I need approval for a change before the next ACEC meeting?

The ACEC has established procedures for urgent consideration of a variation, to an approved project between meetings. See the Obtaining Approval page for further information.

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26. When can I obtain my animals?

You may obtain animals ONLY after you have received written approval from the ACEC for your project and a copy of the Animal Research Authority from your institution.

Animal Services Unit staff normally receive copies of all applications and notifications of ACEC approval and are unable to issue animals unless the request has a current and appropriate ACEC Approval Number.

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27. How do I get my animals?

  • Contact the Animal Services Unit - All animals must be ordered and obtained through the University of Newcastle Animal Services Unit. This requirement does not apply to projects where animals are used in the field (e.g. trapping of animals for surveys).
  • ACEC Approval Number - The ACEC Approval Number must be quoted whenever you order animals, whether they are being obtained from University Animal Facilities or from another source.
  • Remember - animals take time to produce! You should allow time for breeding and growth of animals that you require, particularly for rodents. The Animal Services Unit has a three-monthly advance order system in place to ensure that the specified animals are supplied at the time when they are required.
  • How many? The number of animals you may obtain for your project is limited to that approved by the ACEC. The maintenance of a cumulative record of animals used will alert you to potential cessation of supply.

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28. Where do I get my animals from?

Licensed Animal Supplier - Under the legislation, animals must be purchased only from a licensed supplier. The University of Newcastle is a licensed animal supplier and performs this role through the Animal Services Unit (ASU).

If the animals you require are not bred by the ASU, they may be obtained by the Animal Services Unit from an external licensed animal supplier and supplied to your project via the ASU.

Exceptions - Some animals are classified as 'Exempt Animals' under the legislation (livestock and free-living native and exotic animals), i.e. they may be obtained from a source other than a NSW licensed animal supplier. For example, sheep or pigs may be obtained from farmers by the Animal Services Unit for supply to your project. Free-living animal species may be captured under an appropriate National Parks and Wildlife Service license.

Regardless of their source, it is imperative that you consult with the Animal Services Unit regarding the procurement of any animal so that the microbiological status of the other animals held in the animal facilities is protected.

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29. How do I transfer animals from one project to another?

Animals allocated to one project but not used for that project, may not be transferred to another project unless the animal facility manager is notified.

In addition, animals may not be reused for another project unless the ACEC approves that second project and allocates a second ACEC Approval Number.

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30. What are my responsibilities during the conduct of the project?

The Chief Investigator is ultimately responsible for the welfare of every animal allocated to an approved project. Nevertheless, all persons involved with the use of animals must accept responsibility for those animals at all times.

Use of animals on a project - Animals allocated under a particular ACEC Approval Number may not be used for any purpose other than the exact procedures stated in the approved application.

Responsibility for the animals - As a researcher working with animals on an approved project, you are responsible for the welfare of the animals you use. Your responsibilities extend to all aspects of the care and use of the animal during this time. The Chief Investigator is ultimately responsible for the welfare of every animal allocated to an approved project. Your responsibilities begin from the moment an animal is allocated to the project to the time of disposal of the animal. It does not commence just at the time the "experiment" begins.

Monitoring of animal welfare - The ACEC expects that animals will be monitored on a daily basis, except in those circumstances which makes it impossible to do so and is agreed to by the ACEC. After animals are allocated to a project, the Chief Investigator has primary responsibility for ensuring adequate monitoring of animal wellbeing.

During the period when an animal is allocated to a project, but BEFORE it is used in an experimental protocol, daily monitoring of the animals may be performed as part of the normal husbandry routines performed by Animal Services Unit staff.

However, the ACEC expects that a member of the researcher team will monitor the animals allocated to the project at least once weekly, regardless of whether daily monitoring of the animals is performed as part of the normal husbandry routines by Animal Services Unit staff.

AFTER an animal has entered an experimental protocol, the ACEC expects that normal, healthy experimental animals will be observed by the researchers at least once daily, unless an amendment to this requirement has been specifically approved by the ACEC.

The nature of the daily monitoring and the person performing the monitoring would be determined by the level of potential impact on the well-being of the animals. In addition to daily monitoring, the ACEC expects that monitoring of animals in a research protocol will be conducted in accordance with the specific monitoring protocol endorsed by the ACEC for the project.

See the University of Newcastle Policy for the Monitoring of Animals used for Research or Teaching.

Records - The legislation requires you to keep records of the animals that you use and everything that you do with the animals allocated to your project. All records associated with the monitoring of animal well-being must accompany the individual animal or group of animals at all times, normally in the red project folder provided by the Animal Services Unit.

Specific monitoring checklists must be used for the monitoring of animals following the conduct of procedures.

Identification of animals - All animals must be identified at all times, e.g. cage cards, identification tags and collars or microchips. The identification must be linked to the name of the Chief Investigator and the ACEC Approval Number for the project to which that animal is allocated.

Role of Animal Services Unit staff - Once an animal is allocated to your project, Animal Services Unit staff are no longer responsible for the welfare of that animal. That responsibility rests with the Chief Investigator of the project and subsequently all those working with animals on the project.

The Animal Services Unit staff provide for the care of the animal. However you must be aware of the standard of that care and you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the care is appropriate.

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31. What if something goes wrong with an animal during the conduct of a project?

If there is a problem during the conduct of your project, you must take appropriate action, particularly if an animal is found to be unwell or showing abnormal clinical signs. In this situation, animals must be appropriately assessed and treated or veterinary advice sought.

Examples of unexpected or adverse effects that may occur include:

  • Death of an animal or group of animals that was not expected (e.g. during a surgical procedure, during anaesthesia, following a procedure or treatment).
  • Adverse effects following a procedure or treatment (e.g. inactivity, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, respiratory difficulty, collapse, abdominal swelling).
  • A level of pain or distress that was not predicted during the planning of the project.

The legislation requires you to advise the ACEC of any unexpected or adverse effects which impact on the welfare of the animals.

The ACEC also expects that an autopsy will be performed if an animal dies unexpectedly. These actions allow for investigation of the incident to prevent its recurrence, and to prevent any compromise to animal welfare and your experimental model.

Assistance will be provided by the Committee whenever possible. For further advice and details see the Managing Approved Projects page and the information listed under 'Adverse Events'.

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32. What are the guidelines surrounding the use of tissues from cadavers or tissue sharing?

The use of tissue from freshly euthanased animals by a researcher is a legitimate mechanism for reducing the number of animals required for research/teaching purposes. Thus this practice is encouraged. Prior animal ethics approval is not required for this practice provided that:

  • The animal is killed as part of another legitimate process (e.g. part of another currently approved protocol, part of normal husbandry procedures of the Animal Services Unit, in the abattoir), AND
  • The animal is not bred specifically for the researcher, AND
  • The animal is killed ONLY by a person authorised to do so (e.g. under a current Animal Research Authority, because of the nature of their employment etc), AND
  • The researcher has no input into the treatment or handling of the animal prior to its euthanasia or death, AND
  • The tissue is collected AFTER death of the animal is confirmed. The researcher may be present when the animal is killed and may remove tissues from the animal, OR the animal tissue is removed by the person authorised to euthanase the animal and passed onto the researcher, OR the whole carcass may be passed onto the researcher.

These guidelines are available at the Managing Approved Projects page, information is listed at 'Sharing of Animal Tissues.'

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33. More information and contacts

Information about the policies and procedures of the Animal Care and Ethics Committee (ACEC) are available at the Obtaining Approval for Animal Research page or by contacting the Animal Ethics Officer.

The 'Animal research' email list- An email list has been established by the Animal Ethics Unit and Animal Services Unit that is used to disseminate important or urgent information regarding the use of animals in research or teaching at the University of Newcastle. Membership of the list is restricted to those named on current Animal Research Authorities issued for research projects approved by the ACEC.

To subscribe to the list: send an email to the Animal Ethics Officer. In the body of the email please write: SUBSCRIBE research-animal (insert your full email address).

Examples of command in the body of the email:

  • SUBSCRIBE research‑animal John.Smith@newcastle.edu.au
  • SUBSCRIBE research‑animal Janew@bigpond.com.au
  • SUBSCRIBE research‑animal Sam.Brown@studentmail.newcastle.edu.au

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