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Non-Vertebrate Model Organisms in Genetic Research

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  • 0:08 Non-Vertebrate Model
  • 1:42 Yeast
  • 2:32 Worms
  • 3:19 Flies
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kristin Klucevsek

Kristin has taught college Biology courses and has her doctorate in Biology.

In this lesson, we'll learn the basics of what makes a good model organism for genetic research. In addition, we'll identify a few common non-vertebrate model organisms, including yeast, worms, and flies.

Non-Vertebrate Model Organisms

When it comes time to answer a burning scientific question like 'What causes cancer?' or 'How does an organism develop from a single cell?', it's generally frowned-upon to try and answer these questions using humans. Even though we want to answer questions about human disease and development, we can't exactly test our theories out on humans for many probably obvious reasons. It's just not an ethical approach.

Scientists have come up with a solution by means of using something else for their experimental questions and hypotheses, especially when it comes to genetic research. Much of scientific research is done using a model organism, or any non-human organism that is used to study a scientific process.

A model organism is often chosen for several reasons, including cost, generation time (or time it takes to reproduce), and ease of genetic manipulation (or how easy it is to change the genes within that organism). These are very important tools in choosing a model organism for genetic research, when it's important to be able to study a large number of individuals with different genotypes. Many good model organisms also have their genomes sequenced, meaning we know a lot of the nucleotide bases that make up their DNA.

There is a wide array of model organisms used in research, but in this lesson, we'll focus on the non-vertebrate model organisms, including yeast, worms, and flies. Humans are vertebrate animals, meaning they have a backbone. You may wonder why scientists would ever want to use a non-vertebrate organism to study human diseases and development. While these organisms lack a backbone, they have special features that make them excellent model organisms for studying evolutionarily conserved processes.

Yeast

Baker's yeast, or Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a type of fungus. It's actually the same yeast we use to bake bread and brew beer. Although yeasts are not an animal like the rest of the model organisms we'll talk about, they are still eukaryotes. This means each yeast cell contains a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles like all eukaryotic cells.

This model organism is very common in genetic research. It is a small, single-celled organism that replicates quickly, in only an hour or two. Its small size also means this model organism is super cheap to use and doesn't take a lot of space to store. As a single-celled organism, yeast cells do not have a digestive system or a brain. Therefore, yeasts are better used to study basic cellular processes that they share with human cells, such as DNA replication and protein transport.

Worms

Some worms also make great model organisms, particularly Caenorhabditis elegans or C. elegans. C. elegans are small nematode invertebrate animals that are really easy and cheap to grow in a lab. They also have a relatively short generation time of only a few days.

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