New Roles for Model Genetic Organisms in Understanding and Treating Human Disease: Report from the 2006 Genetics Society of America Meeting
Spradling, Allan, Ganetsky, Barry, Hieter, Phil, Johnston, Mark, et al., Genetics
Fundamental biological knowledge and the technology to acquire it have been immeasurably advanced by past efforts to understand and manipulate the genomes of model organisms. Has the utility of bacteria, yeast, worms, flies, mice, plants, and other models now peaked and are humans poised to become the model organism of the future? The Genetics Society of America recently convened its 2006 meeting entitled "Genetic Analysis: Model Organisms to Human Biology" to examine the future role of genetic research. (Because of time limitations, the meeting was unable to cover the substantial contributions and future potential of research on model prokaryotic organisms.) In fact, the potential of model-organism-based studies has grown substantially in recent years. The genomics revolution has revealed an underlying unity between the cells and tissues of eukaryotic organisms from yeast to humans. No uniquely human biological mechanisms have yet come to light. This common evolutionary heritage makes it possible to use genetically tractable organisms to model important aspects of human medical disorders such as cancer, birth defects, neurological dysfunction, reproductive failure, malnutrition, and aging in systems amenable to rapid and powerful experimentation. Applying model systems in this way will allow us to identify common genes, proteins, and processes that underlie human medical conditions. It will allow us to systematically decipher the gene-gene and gene-environment interactions that influence complex multigenic disorders. Above all, disease models have the potential to address a growing gap between our ability to collect human genetic data and to productively interpret and apply it. If model organism research is supported with these goals in mind, we can look forward to diagnosing and treating human disease using information from multiple systems and to a medical science built on the unified history of life on earth.
MODEL system research has long contributed to basic biological knowledge and its application to human medicine. We have learned that humans share with other animals the same life processes stemming from the common evolutionary origins of all living metazoans. Studies on the basic biology of model organisms first identified the key genetic pathways, such as transcription control circuits, signal transduction pathways, cell cycle regulators, etc., that have since been shown to play critical roles in disease. Moreover, studies using model systems continue to uncover the basic principles as well as the specific details of gene interactions, population variation, and developmental plasticity. There is still an immense amount to learn in all areas of fundamental biology, and approaches using model organisms continue to be among the most productive. We must not relax in our efforts to understand the roles that genes play in all fundamental life processes, including development, growth, physiology, behavior, and aging.
The human genomics revolution has raised the realistic prospect of using information about a patient's genome to identify predisposition to disease, to predict disease severity, and to select propitious therapies. Human genomic information promises to provide genetic markers that would allow health problems to be detected well before they become apparent. Gene-based medicine might even allow prophylactic and curative interventions to be tailored to our individual characteristics. However, major obstacles must still be overcome if the theoretical advantages of genetic medicine are to be realized on a large scale. Patient-specific genetic information is being obtained at an exponentially growing rate, but we still face unresolved technical, ethical, and practical difficulties in deciphering and applying it.
This report highlights work presented at the 2006 Genetics Society of America Meeting that suggests how model organism research can contribute to resolving these obstacles. …