The Molecular Ecologist: Is Homo sapiens a model organism?

New York City Photo by Bikoy.

Over at The Molecular Ecologist, guest contributor Jacob Tennessan suggests that for those of us who study the genetics of natural populations, the ultimate “model organism” may be … us.

Thus, the field of human population genetics has always been a step or two ahead of the molecular ecology of wildlife. Common techniques like mitochondrial- or microsatellite-based phylogeography analyses were pioneered with data from humans. Research into human molecular ecology has yielded countless fascinating stories that provide a baseline for what to expect when examining other taxa. Some are well-known textbook examples, like the sickle-cell hemoglobin balanced polymorphism that conveys resistance to malaria, or the human global diaspora reflected in sequence diversity that traces back to “mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosome Adam.”

Does that make Homo sapiens a “model organism” in the same sense as fruitflies and Caenorhabditis elegans, or more of a proving ground for new molecular methods? Go read the whole thing, and tell us what you think in the comments.◼