What's so special about model organisms?

Abstract
This paper aims to identify the key characteristics of model organisms that make them a specific type of model within the contemporary life sciences: in particular, we argue that the term “model organism” does not apply to all organisms used for the purposes of experimental research. We explore the differences between experimental and model organisms in terms of their material and epistemic features, and argue that it is essential to distinguish between their representational scope and representational target. We also examine the characteristics of the communities who use these two types of models, including their research goals, disciplinary affiliations, and preferred practices to show how these have contributed to the conceptualization of a model organism. We conclude that model organisms are a specific subgroup of organisms that have been standardized to fit an integrative and comparative mode of research, and that it must be clearly distinguished from the broader class of experimental organisms. In addition, we argue that model organisms are the key components of a unique and distinctively biological way of doing research using models.Keywords: Experimental organism; Genetics; Model organism; Modeling; Philosophy of biology; Representation
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Sabina Leonelli & Rachel Ankeny (2011). What’s so Special About Model Organisms? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 42 (2):313-323.
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