What makes a model organism?
Ankeny, Rachel A.
This article explains the key role of model organisms within contemporary research, while at the same time acknowledging their limitations as biological models. We analyse the epistemic and social characteristics of model organism biology as a form of ‘‘big science’’, which includes the development of large, centralised infrastructures, a shared ethos and a specific long-term vision about the ‘‘right way’’ to do research. In order to make wise use of existing resources, researchers now find themselves committed to carrying out this vision with its accompanying assumptions. By clarifying the specific characteristics of model organism work, we aim to provide a framework to assess how much funding should be allocated to such research. On the one hand, it is imperative to exploit the resources and knowledge accumulated using these models to study more diverse groups of organisms. On the other hand, this type of research may be inappropriate for research programmes where the processes of interest are much more delimited, can be usefully studied in isolation and/or are simply not captured by model organism biology.
SL was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis)
Vol. 37, Issue 4, pp. 209 - 212