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Programmed to Die

By | June 2, 2003

James King-Holmes/Science Photo Library Predicting natural death is generally impossible, save for those who study Caenorhabditis elegans: They know the precise moment that 131 cells, and only those 131 cells, are programmed to die. The timing and location of cell death is identical during the development of every tiny C. elegans worm. Nobel laureates John Sulston and Robert Horvitz discovered these cellular suicides in 1976 when they mapped the fate of C. elegans' 1,090 cells. "It really di

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Rising to the Occasion

By | June 2, 2003

©Eye of Science/Photo Researchers Yeast is the oldest domesticated microbe. Its potable fermentation products have sparked feuds, ended wars, instigated romance, and wrecked many a morning after. The organism's mark on science is no less notable. In the 1950s, mapping 26 genes was a challenge. Fifty years later, researchers have identified all 6,000, and they have extracted from this single-celled organism clues to the workings of all eukaryotic life. Scientists know more about cell cycle

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The Fish

June 2, 2003

Small, tropical zebrafish, native to southeast Asia, have been recruited relatively recently from the pet shop and into the lab. They are easy to look after and breed prodigiously. External fertilization allows easy genetic manipulation and analysis, and the embryo is optically transparent. In addition, the availability of a vast storehouse of mutations means that this model will provide insights into developmental processes for years to come. View full pdf featuring research timeline, stats

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The Fly

June 2, 2003

Drosophila melanogaster, the diminutive and ubiquitous fruit fly, is the classic organism for the study of animal genetics. It was introduced to the lab early in the 20th century by Thomas Hunt Morgan, for good practical reasons: short life cycle, ease of culture, and high fecundity. Mutant flies, with defects in any of several thousand genes, are now used for the study of genetics, development, behavior, and other topics. View full pdf featuring research timeline, stats and related web sites,

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The Mouse

June 2, 2003

Naturally comfortable in fields and in kitchens, M. musculus, for the last century, has been virtually indispensable in the research lab. This animal now appears in all shapes and sizes, as researchers consistently produce new strains. Mouse production is a $200 million-a-year business, with transgenics accounting for a third of the new mice created. View full pdf featuring research timeline, stats and related web sites, (282K)

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The Plant

June 2, 2003

Despite its weedy appearance, A. thaliana, commonly known as thale cress or mouse-ear cress, is the undisputed model plant. Ease of cultivation, rapid life cycle, and high seed production are bolstered by small genome size and ease of transformation. As a result of evolutionary conservation, many of the fundamental advances using Arabidopsis are finding useful application in the improvement of crops such as maize, wheat, and rice. View full pdf featuring research timeline, stats and related w

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The Worm

June 2, 2003

C. elegans is a nematode, a smooth-skinned worm with a long, unsegmented, cylindrical body tapered at both ends. Comprising about 1,000 cells, it is the most primitive animal to exhibit characteristics that are important in the study of human biology and disease. Though tiny and transparent, C. elegans contains a full set of differentiated tissues, including a nervous system with a "brain," which allows the study of behavior in a worm that is capable of learning. It is found worldwide in soil

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The Yeast

June 2, 2003

Despite being only one-tenth the size of a white blood cell, many of the cellular functions of higher species are present in unicellular yeast. Two species of yeast have been pressed into service as model organisms: S. cerevisiae and its distant cousin S. pombe. Each one has nearly 200 genes homologous to human genes involved in disease, with 23 for cancer alone. Used since Ancient Egypt, yeast has economic importance in beer and bread making. View full pdf featuring research timeline, stats a

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Unlikely Heroes

By | June 2, 2003

Dr. R. Thomas Broker Among model organisms, bacteria hold a unique place, as both models of infection and pathogenesis, and as research tools. More to the point, molecular biology was built upon the cell walls of lowly bacteria: The processes of DNA replication, RNA transcription, and protein translation, not to mention gene regulation, were all worked out in bacteria. Those early studies provided the foundations to understanding the more complex processes in eukaryotes. Despite their relati

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