There’s a great read by Quantam Magazine about the future of biological research as it pertains to using new model organisms.
Written by Emily Singer, “Biologists Search for New Model Organisms,” walks us through the interesting history of how scientists first began to use certain organisms and how many are improving upon the existing models.
The article begins in the 1900s with Columbia University zoologist Thomas Hunt Morgan who worked in the Marine Biological Laboratory, which offered an abundance of research opportunities. Morgan studied recovery in loner crabs, cell division in ocean urchins, embryonic advancement in frogs, and sex determination in aphids. With each experiment, moving from creature to creature, he introduced a new insight that would become fundamental to biology.
Over the years, Morgan got to be a standout and one of the most adored researchers of the twentieth century. But in the decades since his work, so much has evolved. Yet so much of the research today is still focused on a small gathering of animal varieties — natural product flies, the roundworm C. elegans, zebrafish, mice and a couple others.
Writes Singer, who spoke with numerous leaders in the field:
These animals are easy to grow in the lab, and researchers have developed an arsenal of tools for analyzing and modifying their genomes. The animals have had an enormous impact on our understanding of both basic biology and disease, earning scientists dozens of Nobel Prizes.
But some scientists argue that biology needs a taste of Morgan’s pre-fly days, when scientists studied a panoply of organisms. They argue that by focusing on roughly seven animals out of the estimated 9 million species on Earth, we are missing a huge chunk of interesting biology. “We are due for a renaissance,” said Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, a biologist at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri. “We have narrowed our focus to a handful of organisms that statistically are highly unlikely to encompass the gamut of biological activity on the planet.”
From there, Singer goes on to reveal a dazzling assessment of the state of biological research today and the need for forward-thinking approaches. It’s truly a great read. Check it out here.