Fundamental biological knowledge and the technology to acquire it have been immeasurably advanced by past efforts to understand and manipulate the genomes of model organisms. Has the utility of bacteria, yeast, worms, flies, mice, plants, and other models now peaked and are humans poised to become the model organism of the future? The Genetics Society of America recently convened its 2006 meeting entitled ‘‘Genetic Analysis: Model Organisms to Human Biology’’ to examine the future role of genetic research. (Because of time limitations, the meeting was unable to cover the substantial contributions and future potential of research on model prokaryotic organisms.) In fact, the potential of model-organism- based studies has grown substantially in recent years. The genomics revolution has revealed an underlying unity between the cells and tissues of eukaryotic organisms from yeast to humans. No uniquely human biological mechanisms have yet come to light. This common evolutionary heritage makes it possible to use genetically tractable organisms to model important aspects of human medical disorders such as cancer, birth defects, neurological dysfunction, reproductive failure, malnutrition, and aging in systems amenable to rapid and powerful experimentation. Applying model systems in this way will allow us to identify common genes, proteins, and processes that underlie human medical conditions. It will allow us to systematically decipher the gene–gene and gene–environment interactions that influence complex multigenic disorders. Above all, disease models have the potential to address a growing gap between our ability to collect human genetic data and to productively interpret and apply it. If model organism research is supported with these goals in mind, we can look forward to diagnosing and treating human disease using information from multiple systems and to a medical science built on the unified history of life on earth.
Address reprint requests to: Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado
Spradling A, Ganetsky B, Hieter P, Johnston M, Olson M, Orr-Weaver T, Rossant J, Sánchez Alvarado A, Waterston R. New Roles for Model Genetic Organisms in Understanding and Treating Human Disease: Report From The 2006 Genetics Society of America Meeting. Genetics 172(4): 2025-2032.