At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the face of biology may well be that of a laboratory mouse. Science writers, government agencies, and researchers alike tout the crucial role played by biology's experimental subjects, "model systems" as they are termed, in advancing knowledge. These creatures are not showcased for their appeal -- the flies, mice, worms, and microbes that are the mainstay of laboratory science would be regarded as vermin or germs outside their scientific homes -- but because they have become the locus of producing knowledge about life and disease. To make the case that improving human health rests on our intimate understanding of a select set of rodents, fish, amphibians, microbes, and even a plant, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) features a Web site titled "Model Organisms for Biomedical Research." These are the organisms whose genomes were sequenced as part of the Human Genome...
Model OrganismsThe ScientistEscherichia coliCaenorahdbitis elegans
Researchers selected this weird and wonderful assortment from tens of millions of possibilities because they have common attributes as well as unique characteristics. They're practical: A model must be cheap and plentiful; be inexpensive to house; be straightforward to propagate; have short gestation periods that produce large numbers of offspring; be easy to manipulate in the lab; and boast a fairly small and (relatively) uncomplicated genome. This type of tractability is a feature of all well-used models.
ofmodels for human attributesnomotheticidiographicScience without Lawsanimal modelsestablish the new physiology laboratory thereSaccharomyces cerevissiaeE. colithese systems tend to serve as benchmarks and methodological guidesrepresentation of the phenomenonNancy Cartwright has arguedJohn Forrester has proposed
mail@the-scientist.comThis excerpt is from Science Without Laws: Model Systems, Cases, Exemplary Narratives, Duke University Press (2007), edited by Angela N. H. Creager, Elizabeth Lunbeck, and M. Norton Wise. Scientsist of Science Scientistäludien: Aufsätze und Reden zur Philosophie und ihrer GeschichteInstituting Science: The Cultural Production of Scientific Disciplines of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life as Mediators: Perspectives on Natural and Social Science Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science of the Human Sciences Without Laws: Model Systems, Cases, Exemplary Narratives

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?