Biodiversity in Biomedical Research
Joshua P. Rosenthal
Medical research and conservation biology are operationally distinct fields, despite a great deal of overlap in their basic scientific paradigms and methods. At most universities the practitioners of these respective fields work in separate schools or departments. Furthermore, they focus on different organisms, read different journals, are funded by different organizations, and tend to conduct their research in very different environments. These differences have tended to separate researchers, their investigations, and their results in ways that are to the detriment of both.
Despite these operational divisions, some significant exchanges of theory, methodology, and findings between the biomedical and biodiversity sciences have taken place historically. For example, the fields of molecular biology and demography, as well as many of the specific techniques on which these fields depend, were originally developed in the study of humans and later applied to biodiversity sciences. Similarly, Mendelian genetics and statistical analysis of variance (ANOVA) were originally developed in horticultural and agricultural studies, respectively, and later became basic tools of biomedical science. Today, increased scientific specialization tends to obscure these exchanges and leaves a popular impression that transfer among the fields is largely an unidirectional passage of technologies from medical to biodiversity science.
Perhaps most observers would point to the model organisms Escherichia coli, Rattus norvegicus, and Drosophila melanogaster as the primary contributions of biodiversity to biomedical science. In fact, biodiversity contributes to biomedical science in at least four broad areas (Grifo and Rosenthal 1997). First, biological models for biomedical research have been provided by thousands of diverse species from ferns to tubeworms, from bears to sulfur bacteria, from honeybees to
1996, and 1997
Where possible we have added higher order designations of those for which only genus or species were identified.