The October issue of CSH Protocols presents a new focus on Emerging Model Organisms.

Much of twentieth century biological research has focused on a limited number of model organisms, such as Arabidopsis, C. elegans, mouse, Drosophila, and E. coli. These classical model species, chosen because they are amenable to laboratory research and suitable for studying a range of biological problems, have served to elucidate many biological processes that can be generalized across a wider array of organisms. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the basic workings of the cell were elucidated mostly from experiments on a few single-celled organisms — primarily E.coli and yeast. Our understanding of animal development was largely based on the genetics of fruit fly and worm and on the manipulation of a handful of amphibians and mouse; most of what we learned about the molecular and developmental biology of plants came from examining Arabidopsis and just a few other species. But biology wasn’t always done this way.
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As an example, early efforts to understand gastrulation were informed by careful analysis of a wide variety of organisms (a superb summary of this research can be found in Scott Gilbert’s chapter in Gastrulation). Ernst Haeckel’s Gastrea theory, as he openly acknowledged, relied heavily on the exhaustive work of Alexander Onufreevich Kowalevsky, who described early embryonic development in Amphioxus, Phallusia, Ascidia, Phoronix, Echinus, Ophiura, Limnaeus, the frog, comb jellies, sturgeons and Petromyzon. Modern biologists, by contrast, have only rarely strayed from the relatively small handful of established model organisms. Studies in these models have resulted in a great depth of knowledge, as the concentration of many on a limited number of systems has proved a valuable approach. But things are changing again; with the evolution of new technologies, new questions and new approaches are now possible.

The time and costs of sequencing genomes continues to drop. Techniques for selectively altering the expression patterns of genes have become more generally applicable across species. And more and more biologists are expanding their interests from the purely mechanistic to embrace evolutionary considerations. Because of these factors, we are now seeing a great expansion in the variety of organisms regularly studied. Researchers are now introducing new species to the laboratory, opening up new avenues of research and allowing comparison and refinement of our understanding of already-established models.

October sees the publication of a new article type from CSH Protocols, the “Emerging Model Organism“. The goal of this new venture is to introduce researchers to the new generation of model organisms, and to provide a diverse catalog of potential species useful for extending research in new directions. Each article presents a new organism (or group of related organisms) and provides a detailed explanation of why they are useful for laboratory research, along with information on husbandry, genetics and genomics, and pointers towards further resources. Most are accompanied by a set of basic laboratory protocols for working with that organism. This month brings the introductory articles in this series, covering the nematode Pristionchus pacificus, The American Wandering Spider Cupiennius salei, and the Opossum Monodelphis domestica. Our featured articles for the month, freely available to subscribers and non-subscribers are:
The Genus Antirrhinum (Snapdragon): A Flowering Plant Model for Evolution and Development
and
Planarians: A Versatile and Powerful Model System for Molecular Studies of Regeneration, Adult Stem Cell Regulation, Aging, and Behavior

The first set of articles in this series is being collected and will be available in November as a printed laboratory manual. We hope that these Emerging Model Organism articles will serve as a practical guide for finding just the right species for addressing your research needs, and as a primer for introducing new systems to your laboratory.

This series would not have been possible without the efforts of a special editorial board assembled for this project, Richard Behringer, Alexander Johnson, Robb Krumlauf, Mike Levine, Nipam Patel and Neelima Sinha. They have done a superb job of honing both the format of the content of these articles, and in pointing us toward leading experts and valuable new model systems. We also welcome your suggestions for organisms to include in future volumes of this series – please send us your ideas by contacting us at submitprotocols@cshl.edu.