Chapter

Model Systems, Model Organisms

Rowland H. Davis

in The Microbial Models of Molecular Biology

Published in print September 2003 | ISBN: 9780195154368
Published online April 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199893935 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195154368.003.0001
Model Systems, Model Organisms

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Natural philosophers and biologists of the past sought to make sense of the many types of plants and creatures that, if not made for humans, were at least created by imaginative gods. As the Renaissance yielded enlightenment, the classification of organisms and a study of their structures embodied a new attempt to subdue the mystery of life. The effort was satisfying in confirming the systematic intentions of the designer. But as the last millennium progressed, the urge simply to recognize and sort plants and animals gave way to an ambition to understand their origins, functions, and diversity. Detached from constraints of authority by the examples of Galileo and Newton, the early explorers of the living domain began to ask empirical questions buried for centuries, latent in the human imagination. This chapter explores the choice and use of organisms in answering these questions. The organisms now living on earth are so diverse that one must ask how biologists made such choices. It looks at the organisms that brought biology to the beginning of the 20th century, when particular models began to guide experimental research and for a time limited our appreciation of organismic diversity. In doing so, it shows how very recent our understanding of living things really is, and why we saw such an acceleration of biological research in the 20th century.

Keywords: biological model systems; genetics; model organisms; biological research

Chapter.  5664 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Biochemistry

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