The future of humans as model organisms

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Science  10 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6402, pp. 552-553
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau7779

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  • RE: "The future of humans as model organisms" FitzGerald, et al., 552-553.
    • Andrew S. Flies, Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Fellow, Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia
    • Other Contributors:
      • Michelle L. Baker, Research Scientist, CSIRO Health and Biosecurity Business Unit/Australian Animal Health Laboratory, Geelong, Victoria, 3220, Australia
      • Jerome Le Nours, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
      • Jamie Rossjohn, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia

    The Essay “The future of humans as model organisms” (10 Aug, p. 552) highlighted the potential to incorporate more “real-world” testing into biomedical research. Here we propose that the biomedical research community also takes a closer look at other genetically outbred animals in more natural environments. This approach would satisfy key points highlighted by FitzGerald et al.: (i) broadening the diversity of populations studied, (ii) taking advantage of natural “gene knockouts”, (iii) quantifying “physiological noise” due to genetics and the environment (1).

    For example, bats, rodents and wild birds harbor many pathogens (e.g. rabies, hantavirus, influenza), thus providing insights into how these hosts are protected, which may lead to parallel insights for other species. Further, transmissible tumors in dogs (2) and Tasmanian devils (3, 4) are simultaneously a cancer, infectious disease, and allograft and provide opportunities to investigate immune regulation and evasion. Advances in monitoring techniques (e.g. remote-sensing) for these natural experiments allow a "more direct linkage to functional outcomes" (10 Aug, p. 553), such as fecundity and survival. Furthermore, these real-world “experiments” might have improved translational capacity for humans and veterinary medicine and stimulate ideas that are unlikely to be conceived in laboratory-based studies.

    Finally, several amphibian, bat, and ape populations are in decline largely due to disease...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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