The Horrifying History Of The Pregnancy Test

By Mike Devlin on Wednesday, September 18, 2013
atest
“Your eggo is preggo, no doubt about it.” —Rollo, Juno

In A Nutshell

In the years prior to the ubiquitous plastic sticks we use today, pregnancy was determined by injecting a woman’s urine into mice and rabbits, which were then dissected to see the results. Frogs were used later: They would go into ovulation within hours if the result was positive. The frog test was the world standard until the 1970s.

The Whole Bushel

Today’s pregnancy tests are mostly foolproof and incredibly accurate, but those administered in olden times were far more dubious. The link between urine and pregnancy was understood as long ago as ancient Egyptian times; they would pour the woman’s urine over wheat and barley grains. If it germinated, that meant she was pregnant. Whether the wheat or barley sprouted would indicate the sex of the fetus. Obviously, this methodology was flawed on many levels. The technology did not improve significantly during the Middle Ages: Most tests during this era were outright quackery.

After the link between pregnancy and hormones was established at the beginning of the 20th century, the A-Z test was invented by chemist Selmar Aschheim and gynecologist Bernhard Zondek in the late 1920s. It was a rather cruel trial—five female mice were injected with the urine of a prospectively pregnant woman over the course of a few days, then dissected. If their ovaries were swollen, it would indicate that the woman was pregnant. Later, rabbits would be used.

Shortly thereafter, British zoologist Lancelot Hogben pioneered the frog pregnancy test while conducting research at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. The Hogben Test involved injecting the woman’s urine into the African clawed frog. If the woman was pregnant, the frog would ovulate in a matter of hours. Most importantly, the frogs could be re-used and would not have to die to complete the test. Though it sounds terribly archaic today, the Hogben frog test was the world standard in pregnancy testing for decades. The African clawed frog would go on to have a lasting legacy in animal testing, becoming the first vertebrate species ever cloned.

Unfortunately, the African clawed frog is also the the carrier of a deadly fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which infects the skin of amphibians and causes them to die within weeks. The clawed frog has evolved so that it is unaffected by the fungus, but the disease has now become a major threat to hundreds of other amphibian species that have not built up an immunity.

Show Me The Proof

The Amphibian Pregnancy Test
A Timeline of Pregnancy Testing
Frog Once Used in Pregnancy Tests Spread Deadly Fungus

  • inconspicuous detective

    at the risk of sounding like an idiot, what does the last paragraph have to do with the article? about the clawed frog and fungus?

    • narcoticelegance

      I’m thinking they mean since the frogs, who a carriers of a deadly fungus, also had a part in cloning, they are the reason other species are getting wiped out. More frogs equals more death. Really though, that last paragraph could have been a “fun fact!” or left out.

      • inconspicuous detective

        that’s what i mean, and i figured that but i wasn’t completely sure that they were cloning then releasing the frogs. it just seems totally out of place and random given the context and what the article is about. and thanks for helping clear that up.

    • MRlC

      I agree it was mildly interesting completely unrelated fluff.

      • Christopher Stephens

        Not fluff, I think it was a marvelous tie in covering how human convenience may lead to ecological disaster without proper forethought. Good job Mike 🙂

        • MRlC

          Yea…..nah….

    • I’cia( ❤ My Falcons)

      I think it was misplaced. The last paragraph lost me

  • patrick weidinger

    Nice article but I don’t know if i would call this “horrifying”? Disturbing? Maybe.

  • sgtbill

    I knew a gal who drove a Volkswagon Rabbit. Her car eventually could no longer be repaired, and she called her mom and said” the rabbit died”. I won’t repeat what her mom said in reply, but mom felt very sorry once the story was re-explained.

  • Skippy

    “go into ovulation” what

  • Akram Abu Shook

    Why is it horrifying, great reading but I felt as if it was incomplete the writer talked about the history of pregnancy test but he didn’t follow up to the modern pregnancy test we need more details on that and how is it accurate and how is urine is an indicator to women’s pregnancy. Thank you great reading though

  • Hillyard

    You can’t catch me ’cause the rabbit done died.