It's a motley collection of creatures: They fly, swim, wiggle, scurry, or just blow in the wind. But to the scientific community, this compilation has been elevated above all other species. They are the model organisms.
What organisms comprise this collection? Just why, and when--and by whom--were they selected? What contributions have they made to the understanding of life processes?
We explore these questions here, in this first-ever supplement to The Scientist.
Of the many species that could claim to be model organisms, we concentrate on the eight most used and most useful. Our collection covers Escherichia coli, a common intestinal bacterium that can cause diarrheal disease; Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe, a pair of single-cell eukaryotes, both yeasts but distant cousins known for their roles in bread and beer production; Caenorhabditis elegans, the tiny, soil-dwelling worm; Drosophila melanogaster, the ubiquitous fruit fly; Danio...