The laboratory mouse, Mus musculus domesticus, as a model organism Problem: The laboratory mouse has been used since 1902 as a model organism in genetics. Describe how the laboratory mouse fits the criteria for a model organism. Are there any characteristics about the mouse that might make it a better candidate than other model organisms for certain studies? Can humans be considered a model organism?
Solution: The laboratory mouse meets all the criteria described for a model organism. It is a small animal that can be raised conveniently and inexpensively in a small space indoors, typically in a laboratory vivarium. After 18-22 days of gestation a female gives birth to 5-10 pups. She may become pregnant again only 28 hours after giving birth (However, most researches wait until female mice have had sufficient time to wean their litter before allowing the female mice to re-mate.) Mice may mate for the first time when they are 10 weeks old, and researchers schedule subsequent matings to produce as many as five generations per year. Because many genetic variants of mouse have been discovered and are used to found reproductive lineages, different genetic stocks of mice are available from supply houses and university research centers. The research literature from many studies conducted over a century covers all topics of mouse biology. Because the biology of the mouse is similar to that of other mammals that cannot themselves be as efficiently studied. For example, mice often serve as the subjects for studies of cancer and immunity; in many cases, information acquired from such studies may then be applied to humans.
Humans clearly do not have all the characteristics of a model organism for genetics. We have relatively long generation times, we produce few progeny per mating pair, and selective mating for research purposes is ethically inappropriate. Whereas the science of genetics grew rapidly during the first eight decades of the twentieth century, progress in human genetics lagged well behind the advances obtained using model organism in many areas. However, this situation has changed dramatically in recent years. DNA analysis can now be applied routinely and in large scale to study human genetics. Researches can compensate for the limitations of more traditional genetic analysis in humans through the use of DNA analysis. We can now say that humans are genetically one of the best-characterized species, a statement that would have been difficult to justify a few years ago.