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Lions Roar : May 2017
Why is chemical sterilization more effective? The female rat ovulates every four days and has a litter every twenty-eight days, becoming pregnant the day she delivers. So just two rats can give rise to 15,000 descendants over their eight-month life- time. That’s what we need to know about these animals if we’re going to help con- trol their reproduction for everybody’s benefit—the rats’ as well as our own. SenesTech, the company you cofounded, has developed a product called ContraPest that sterilizes rats. Where has it been used so far? Probably the most noteworthy test is the subways of New York City. We had four trash rooms, one of them in Grand Central Station, and in twelve weeks we achieved a 43 percent reduction in the rat population. What prompted you to become a biologist? A dear friend had a massive heart attack. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, so I went to a friend of mine who studied heart disease. She said, “If Gladys were male, I could tell you exactly why she died, but we just don’t know that much about women and heart disease.” I said, “We have to change that,” and she said, “Do you have a few billion dollars?” I said, “No, I’m short this month, but make me a scientist.” I then went back to school. I was forty-one when I made this wild decision. I got another bachelor’s degree. Then I did a master’s and a PhD. After graduate school, you and another scien- tist synthesized a compound that made mice infertile without any other effects. The idea was to induce menopause in lab mice to help study changes in the hearts of postmeno- pausal women. How did you go from that to no-kill pest control? The compound we used for mice could be formulated for other mammals. I received a phone call from a scientist working in Asia who said, “If we could just reduce the population of rats by 5 to 10 percent, we could feed up to 400 million people a year.” That convinced me. I went from my white coat to the rice fields of Indonesia. Then I got a call a call from a veterinar- ian on a Navajo reservation who said, “I have to euthanize 400 dogs a month. If we could stop their reproduction, I wouldn’t have to kill so many dogs.” Of course, I then moved into a bunkhouse on the reser- vation. When the call comes, the question is, can we help the animals? Can we help at that intersection of people and animals? How does your Buddhist practice influence your work? What attracted me to Buddhism is the concept of wishing peace, enlightenment, and happiness for others as a way of dealing with strife and angst. What we do is disrup- tive—it’s a paradigm shift for some indus- tries that have done very well by killing ani- mals. But when we deal with people in the poison industry, we wish them happiness and an end to their suffering. If they weren’t hurting, think how much better it would be! When I was a child, my father used to say, “Kindness is the only way,” and that fits with what I’ve found in Buddhism. ♦ LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 20 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE