7 May 2015
Model organisms have provided the foundation for building our understanding of life, including human disease. Now Homo sapiens has joined this select group, adding knowledge we can apply to ourselves and our myriad companion species. But to resolve even one small part of the moving, shifting puzzle of life, we need them all, writes Dr Ewan Birney, Associate Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).
Biology is incredibly complex. Even the simplest bacteria make intricate decisions and balance different demands, all via chemical reactions happening simultaneously in what seems like just a bag of molecules: the cell.
Larger organisms all start as a single cell and eventually become living creatures that can fly, or slither, or think – sometimes living for just a day and sometimes for centuries. Evolution has, quite amazingly, given rise to everything from uranium-feeding bacteria to massive sequoias and tax-filing, road-building, finger-painting humans.
Unpicking the complexity of biology is hard, in part because so many things are happening all at once. We’ve been working on it for centuries, building layer upon layer of knowledge collectively, usually relying on specific organisms with which we accumulate large amounts of knowledge on the processes of life. [...]