This is our first podcast in Tamizh – the first in a new series titled ‘அறிவியல் கடல்’ which means ‘Sea of Science’.
The title of this podcast is ‘உதாரண உயிரினங்கள்’ which is Tamil for model organisms. We will be focussing on the use of these organisms in biological research.
Following is an English transcript.
Abhishek: Hello! My name is Abhishek Chari and I am a member of IndScicomm, a science communication collective. In our ongoing efforts, we have created podcasts as well as written articles that discuss interesting aspects of scientific research, the researchers involved in this effort, their discoveries and the effects of scientific progress on the past, present and future of human society. We also collaborate with Indian scientists, researchers and writers at all levels of the scientific enterprise in creating our science communication materials.
We are very happy to present this podcast in Tamil, which is one of the national languages of India. Amrita Anand, a student at America’s Baylor College of Medicine, collaborated with us to produce this podcast. She is working for her Ph.D, and conducts research on hearing. She will now introduce the topic of our conversation.
Amrita: Hello! My name is Amrita Anand. I am very happy to participate in this wonderful podcast. In this part of the podcast, we will be talking about model organisms that are used in biological research. In the next part of this podcast, we will specifically talk about the use of mice as model organisms.
Abhishek: When we were discussing the idea of making a podcast in Tamil, Amrita suggested this topic. She also helped with writing the script and translating it into Tamil. Now, before talking about mice, let’s discuss model organisms. Here are some examples of model organisms that are used to study aspects of the human body’s growth, development, functioning and disorders: different species of microbes, flies, zebrafish, birds, mice, rats, guinea pigs and monkeys.
The foremost reason for the use of model organisms is that it is not possible to conduct some forms of biological experiments on humans. So, scientists have chosen organisms that are a close enough match to humans in terms of their genes and other biological features, and use these as model organisms for their research.
Amrita: Apart from how similar model organisms are to humans in terms of their genes and genomes, there are other important reasons for some organisms being chosen as model organisms rather than others. The ease with which certain organisms can be reared and maintained in the laboratory and the kind of experiments that they can be used for… These are the factors that scientists use to choose the appropriate organism to use as a model, to answer questions about specific biological phenomena.
Abhishek: Amrita, could you give us some examples of model organisms that are used in specific areas of biological research?
Amrita: Specific model organisms are used in different areas of research. For example, regeneration is studied using certain species of worms. The relationship between genes and the environment is researched using certain species of flies. Zebrafish are preferred model organisms for researching embryonic development. Zebrafish larvae have transparent bodies which makes observing their internal organs really easy. Another example is the use of mammals like mice in biomedical research.
Abhishek: Is there an advantage to using model organisms like mice in biomedical research?
Amrita: Some diseases take years to show symptoms in human beings. But, in certain lineages of model organisms, diseases can show symptoms in relatively reduced timeframes, like weeks. Due to this, it is easier to conduct research about certain diseases in such model organisms. This is why scientists use model organisms like mice to conduct research about medicines or treatment methods for some diseases.
Abhishek: But, there are some disadvantages in using model organisms for biomedical research. Despite the similarities between humans and model organisms in terms of their genes, there are some unavoidable differences between them. Due to these differences, some cause and effect relationships seen while using a species of model organism are not apparent or reproducible in other organisms and humans.
In addition, it is often difficult to directly apply or modify the experimental protocols used for one species or type of model organism to another.
Amrita: The take home message from all this is that the use of human volunteers is essential, for the validation of therapeutic methods or drugs that are developed in model organisms, before such therapies are used to treat human patients.
Abhishek: We humans have a strange relationship with model organisms. Despite the differences that exist between us, we share some fundamental similarities. It is due to these similarities that research on model organisms yields results that can be applied to humans. But, why do our similarities make it necessary to use model organisms in an ethical manner? And how do scientists put ethical considerations into practice?
Amrita: Scientific research is always a struggle between what is necessary and what is possible. This struggle attains an ethical aspect in biological research. This is because most living organisms can feel pain and bodily suffering just like humans do.
So, it is unethical to cause unnecessary suffering to model organisms. Bound by this principle, scientists enforce the ethical treatment of model organisms in different ways. These include reducing pain in model organisms using medication, providing comfortable living conditions and making efficient use of the available animal resources.
Abhishek: Scientific research methodology is very difficult, whether it is to figure out how to ethically treat model organisms or solve complex biological problems…scientists have very difficult jobs. But without the contribution of model organisms, their efforts would not have yielded any results. The use of model organisms has led to many societal and medical benefits.
The use of antibiotics like penicillin to combat microbes, blood transfusions and organ transplants, vaccines for diseases like polio, the management of diseases like diabetes… we could keep adding to this list and this podcast will never end! The sheer number of invaluable human lives that have been saved using these discoveries is uncountable.
Amrita: Model organisms are an important tool in biological research in order to understand the mysteries of the human body in disease and in health. Scientists have discovered how many drugs and treatments work based on their experiments on model organisms. Supported by these advances, doctors have been able to cure many human diseases. Scientists are working hard in order to understand many more diseases and processes such as growth and metabolism in humans.
Abhishek: In our next episode of this podcast, we will be talking about the use of mice as model organisms. Until then, dear listeners, you can enjoy much of our scicomm work on our website indscicomm.blog and our twitter handle @indscicomm.
Until we meet again, on behalf of Indscicomm this is Abhishek and Amrita.
This podcast features music from the song ‘Hidden Grotto (Loop)’ by Visager, available on Free Music Archive (freemusicarchive.org). This song is licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).