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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences




Curiosity-driven, basic biological research “…performed without thought of practical ends…” establishes fundamental conceptual frameworks for future technological and medical breakthroughs. Traditionally, curiosity-driven research in biological sciences has utilized experimental organisms chosen for their tractability and suitability for studying the question of interest. This approach leverages the diversity of life to uncover working solutions (adaptations) to problems encountered by living things, and evolutionary context as to the extent to which these solutions may be generalized to other species. Despite the well-documented success of this approach, funding portfolios of United States granting agencies are increasingly filled with studies on a few species for which cutting-edge molecular tools are available (genetic model organisms). While this narrow focus may be justified for biomedically-focused funding bodies such as the National Institutes of Health, it is critical that robust federal support for curiosity-driven research using diverse experimental organisms be maintained by agencies such as the National Science Foundation. Using the disciplines of neurobiology and behavioral research as an example, this study finds that NSF grant awards have declined in association with a decrease in the proportion of grants funded for experimental, rather than genetic model organism research. The decline in use of experimental organisms in the literature mirrors but predates the shift grant funding. Today’s dominance of genetic model organisms was thus initiated by researchers themselves and/or by publication peer review and editorial preferences, and was further reinforced by pressure from granting agencies, academic employers, and the scientific community.

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Farris SM (2020) The rise to dominance of genetic model organisms and the decline of curiosity-driven organismal research. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0243088.


© 2020 Sarah M. Farris. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

This article received support from the WVU Libraries' Open Access Author Fund.

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