EMERGING MODELS IN BIOLOGY
Non-traditional model organisms are key to
answer novel biological questions.
We aim to exploit unique features of various emerging models to experimentally approach unsolved questions in biology. Systems on the rise include, among many others, the axolotl as a model for regeneration, killifish to better understand aging, and choanoflagellates to reconstruct the evolutionary transition from single-celled organisms to multicellular forms of life. Here we provide a platform to showcase the amazing creatures being developed and used to tackle many important but understudied phenomena.
As a community, we use protocols.io – an open access repository – for sharing resources, methods and collaborative working environment.
Why Emerging Models?
Technological advances allow to increase the biodiversity of tractable models for novel insight
into general cell biology, and in the context of ecology and evolution.
Experimental work on models such as E. coli, yeast, Drosophila, C. elegans, Arabidopsis, mouse and cultured mammalian cells have led to remarkable discoveries in molecular biology, development and disease. Large communities of researchers focus on these models because they are convenient to work with, tractable and have many publicly available resources including well-annotated genomes, strain collections and established protocols. However, many central questions in biology have remained unanswered to this day: How do animals survive extreme conditions such as desiccation for years? Or why are some organisms susceptible to cancer but others are not? Today´s standard models are not ideal to answer these and other fascinating biological questions. Moreover, traditional models cover only a limited range of biodiversity and the key to make a leap forward in understanding the evolutionary history of eukaryotic cells and their functional complexity will be to study species at diverse and key phylogenetic positions in the tree of life.
Modern research tools and low-cost genome sequencing has now paved the way to experimentally address novel questions by exploiting unique features of nontraditional models that appeared previously inaccessible to mechanistic analysis. Within a relatively short period of time, a small research community or even a single lab can establish a basic experimental toolkit for any given organism (provided it can be easily grown under laboratory conditions) and important efforts have therefore been to develop the initial genetic and transformation tools for emerging models to tackle novel biological questions.
Being adventurous, prepared for failure and willing to invest in methods development
is key to be rewarded with fantastic new biology.
Exploring novel biology and seeking to answer long-standing questions using an emerging model is very exciting but also comes at some cost. Establishing optimal culturing and efficient reproduction conditions for a new organism may be more difficult than expected. For each creature, many tools need to be established from scratch which can be tedious and time-consuming. If a research community working on a particular organism is small (which it usually is), method development depends on one or very few labs at the best. Colleagues are scattered all over the globe and lack of direct feedback may slow down efficient trouble-shooting and progress.
Dedicated funding to establish resources and tools for novel models is scarce and the adventurer often walks a fine line between aiming for biologically interesting projects while squeezing in methods development with marginal (or no) budgets. In principle, many classical journals like emerging models but routinely publish major scientific papers will most likely take longer for labs working on emerging models when compared to groups taking advantage of traditional models.
About the network
Our community has common goals, shares resources
and provides support.
Despite such challenges, biologists are drawn to new model systems for many reasons: some seek to understand the evolution of biological processes by studying species in key phylogenetic positions whereas others delve into novel biology that cannot be studied in established systems. Regardless of the motivations, development of new model systems for molecular, cellular, and genetic studies requires researchers to solve similar problems.
The Network of Emerging Models in Biology envisions that sharing protocols from different species and discussions of challenges overcome during protocol development will facilitate tool development in another species. We therefore aim to provide a platform to share resources and infrastructure including protocols, molecular toolkits, databases and strain collections. We build a framework to discuss and debate common issues, give feedback and support across model system boundaries, and to connect our lab members to each other. We provide contacts, information and encouragement for any researcher considering to start a novel system and to the benefit the general scientific community. For this purpose, we use the open access repository protocols.io to share resources and methods.
Check out some topical videos
In this video, Wallace Marshall from the UCSF presents his favorites among crazy skills single cell can have. Be prepared for some surprises!
Our knowledge of eucaryotes is extremeley biased. New technologies and methodologies are about to change that.