What are model organisms?

A model organism is a species that has been widely studied, usually because it is easy to maintain and breed in a laboratory setting and has particular experimental advantages.

  • Model organisms are non-human species that are used in the laboratory to help scientists understand biological processes.
  • They are usually organisms that are easy to maintain and breed in a laboratory setting.
  • For example, they may have particularly robust embryos that are easily studied and manipulated in the lab, this is useful for scientists studying development.
  • Or they may occupy a pivotal position in the evolutionary tree, this is useful for scientists studying evolution.

Why are model organisms useful in genetics research?

  • Many model organisms can breed in large numbers.
  • Some have a very short generation time, which is the time between being born and being able to reproduce, so several generations can be followed at once
  • Mutants allow scientists to study certain characteristics or diseases. These are model organisms that have undergone a change or mutation in their DNA that may result in a change in a certain characteristic.
  • Some model organisms have similar genes or similar-sized genomes to humans.
  • Model organisms can be used to create highly detailed genetic maps:
    • Genetic maps are a visual representation of the location of different genes on a chromosome, a bit like a real map but one where the key landmarks are areas of interest in the genome.
    • For example, areas of DNA that differ between individuals in the same species (SNPs) or genes.

Examples of model organisms used to study genetics

  • Yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae)
  • Fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster)
  • Nematode worm (Caenorhabditis elegans)
  • Western clawed frog (Xenopus tropicalis)
  • Mouse (Mus musculus)
  • Zebrafish (Danio rerio)

This page was last updated on 2015-01-19