%2331+-+Model+Organisms - BME 418 Quantitative Cell Biology...

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BME 418, Quantitative Cell Biology Alan J. Hunt Lecture #31: Model organisms A common public complaint about basic research: why are you working on this obscure problem? How will this be practical? General answer, a scientific pursuit will be valuable if it: 1) has clear potential for practical applications, for example leads to treatments for a specific disease. 2) helps understanding the fundamentals of a significant phenomenon, for example how cells differentiate during development in multicellular organisms. If studies do not fall into either of the categories they really can be considered trivia. The second point is self-evident to someone with a scientific perspective, but it is the one lay- people have the most trouble with. History has repeatedly demonstrated that fundamental scientific inquiry and developments always lead to practical applications. Example: perhaps the single most important development for human health and well-being in modern society is the ability to produce and productively use electricity. However, if Faraday had held the attitude of "I need to know how this will be practically applied before I'll pursue it" he never would have bothered studying charge interactions. In this vein, perhaps the most common public complaint about biological research is "why are you working on some obscure organism? Wouldn't it be better to study humans?" The answer is that all organisms share in common mechanisms for accomplishing tasks fundamental to sustaining life. There are intertwined reasons for this: 1) Common evolutionary heritage. 2) Common aspects of the physical universe and the common environment of one planet constrain the number of possible solutions to a given problem. But, one might ask, even if humans do share a great many properties with other organisms, why not study the organism most relevant to the problem at hand to be absolutely certain that findings apply? For example, if the goal is to understand the vertebrate nervous system, why not vertebrate neurons?
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