Model Organisms

Model organism collage

For thousands of years, animals have helped humans advance biomedical research. From yeast and worms to fruit flies and mice, these creatures hold clues to the secrets of our own biology.

“Model organisms, in general, are useful because evolution doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it goes to a different species,” says Associate Professor Bruce Draper, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. “It keeps to using loosely the same genetic modules to build on things.”

All modern life arose from the same ancient ancestor. So to study human eye development, for example, a good place to start is the fruit fly because the gene networks that govern its eye development are similar to those found in mammals. Through experimentation, researchers can then explore potential relationships to human health. Scroll down to learn more about the model organism and the College of Biological Sciences researchers who use them.

FRUIT FLY (Drosophila melanogaster)

Phylum: Euarthropodafruit fly

Perfect for genetic studies, fruit flies share 75% of the genes that cause disease in humans. They breed quickly and it is easy to change their DNA code. The fruit fly genome contains 132 million DNA base pairs.

Faculty who study fruit flies

Stories about fruit flies


GARDEN TOMATO (Solanum lycopersicum)

Phylum: SpermatophytaTomato illustration

Bred as a crop, the tomato is an ideal fruit model, related to peppers, eggplant, potatoes and more. Tomato's wild relatives are extreme adaptors to drought and pathogens. The tomato genome contains 900 million DNA base pairs.

Faculty who study tomatoes

Stories about tomatoes

HOUSE MOUSE (Mus musculus)

Phylum: Chordatamouse illustration

The top mammal model, mice develop diseases that affect humans, like cancer and diabetes. As mice age 30x faster than humans, they teach us about aging. The mouse genome contains 3.1 billion DNA base pairs.

Faculty who study mice

Stories about mice

HYDRA (Hydra vulgaris)

Phylum: Cnidariahydra illustration

With special stem cells, a hydra can replace lost body parts and is virtually immortal in a lab environment. Its unique abilities make hydra ideal for studies in healing and aging. The hydra genome contains 1-1.5 billion DNA base pairs.

Faculty who study hydra

Stories about hydra


ROUNDWORM (Cenorhabditis elegans)

Phylum: Nematodaroundworm illustration

Measuring 1 mm in length, the roundworm has 959 cells and a life cycle of only three days. Roundworm development is easy to trace as cells grow and move. The roundworm genome contains 100 million DNA base pairs.

Faculty who study roundworms

Stories about roundworms



ZEBRAFISH (Danio rerio) 

Phylum: ChordataZebrafish illustration

Young zebrafish have clear skin, creating living windows for reproductive growth. Zebrafish sex organs can be modified to glow in UV light, which helps us study diseases like cancer. The roundworm genome contains 1.5 billion DNA base pairs.

Faculty who study zebrafish

Stories about zebrafish

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genetic profile chart illustration