In the 20th and early 21st century, an unprecedented explosion occurred in research (and funding) focused on organisms in the biological/biomedical sciences. Understanding these organisms will in turn assist scientists and science policymakers to make practices more reflective, efficient, and productive.
There is however, for every success story, many failures of animal modelling and experimentation which can only improve with further research. The list of research organisms includes hundreds of species, such as:
- the sea hare Aplysia for neurobiology
- the nematode worm for genetics and development
- the dog for physiology and haematology
- the mouse in fields ranging from physiology to immunology and oncology
- the rat in nutrition, neurology, and behavioural psychology
- maize in agriculture.
The primary aim of this project is to generate novel historical and philosophical insights into key scientific norms and practices in the contemporary biological/biomedical sciences through comparative examination of diverse research programs which utilise non-human organisms.
- What criteria are utilised to determine that an organism is potentially epistemically relevant in terms of the research question, phenomenon of interest, or desired product?
- How are the limits associated with the use of any particular organism assessed and mitigated prior to adopting it for research?
- How are trade-offs balanced between the needs to standardise and to allow for variability in the phenomena studied, the technologies used, and the organism itself?
- In what ways have recent advances in technology (such as DNA sequencing) affected research with particular organisms?
- What are some of the key institutional patterns that support research with organisms (e.g. cyber and material infrastructures, data and strain sharing, funding mechanisms)?
- What kinds of distinctive and shared ensemble of elements (‘repertoires’) allow biologists to cooperate on research on a specific organism (or group of organisms)?
Approach and methods
We use blended historical and philosophical techniques to examine a range of case studies of particular organisms used in the 20th and early 21st century biological/biomedical sciences as foci for research programs. We also use quantitative methods for producing an overall snapshot of contemporary and recent practices.
This combination of methodologies provides an effective means of crossing disciplinary boundaries. It produces analyses that are useful to both history and philosophy of science scholars, as well as to practising scientists and science policymakers as the research is deeply embedded in the needs and problems of those working at the ‘coal face’ of these scientific fields.
Ruggles, L.M. (forthcoming 2020). The Cornish Mallow, in P. Vieira, J.C. Ryan, and M. Gagliano (eds.) The Mind of Plants. Associated website: https://www.themindofplants.com/
Leonelli S. Intelligent plant data linkage: a view from history, philosophy and social studies of science [version 1; not peer reviewed]. F1000Research 2019, 8:1815 (slides) (doi: 10.7490/f1000research.1117580.1)
Leonelli, S. (2018) Without Urgent Action Big and Open Data may widen existing inequalities and social divides. LSE Impact Blog, 14 February 2018. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2018/02/14/without-urgent-action-big-and-open-data-may-widen-existing-inequalities-and-social-divides/
Rappert, B, Leonelli, S. and Bezuidenhout, L (2018) New Deal on Data Needed If Open Science Is To Go Global. View from the Top, Research Fortnight, 17 January 2018.
Leonelli, S. (2017) Big and Open Data Are Prompting A Reform of Scientific Governance. The Times Higher Education Blog, 21 February 2017. Republished in Times Higher Education Magazine, February 2017.
Leonelli, S. (2017) Data-Centric Science Will Change How We Measure the Value of Research. Research Europe, 23 February 2017.
Leonelli, S. (2017) Interview for Cartaditalia issue 3, November 2017, as part of a series featuring leading Italian researchers under 40: http://iicbruxelles.esteri.it/iic_bruxelles/resource/doc/2017/11/cartaditalia_n3-rid.pdf
Leonelli, S. (2017) More than Data Collectors: Valuing Data Expertise Beyond Professional Science. Harvard Bill of Health Blog. 4 May 2017.
Ruggles, L.M. (2017). Beyond the animal brain: Plants have cognitive capacities too. Aeon Magazine, December 2017.
Rachel A. Ankeny and Ernst Wolvetang (2021), “Testing the Correlates of Consciousness in Brain Organoids: How Do We Know and What Do We Do?” American Journal of Bioethics 21: 51–53.
Rachel A. Ankeny, Megan Munsie, and Joan Leach (2021, forthcoming), “Developing a Reflexive, Anticipatory, and Deliberative Approach to Unanticipated Discoveries: Ethical Lessons from iBlastoids” (target article), American Journal of Bioethics, accepted 31.07.21
Ankeny, RA and Leonelli, S (2020) Using Repertoires to Explore Changing Practices in Recent Coral Research. In: Matlin, K., Maienschein, J and Ankeny, R From the Beach to the Bench: Why Marine Biological Studies? Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 249-270.
Dietrich, M., Ankeny, R. A., Crowe, N., Green, S., & Leonelli, S. (2020). How to Choose your Research Organism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 80, 101227.
Karl S. Matlin, Jane Maienschein, and Rachel A. Ankeny, eds. (2020), Why Study Biology by the Sea? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lowe, J, Leonelli, S and Davies, G (2020) Training to translate: Understanding and Informing Translational Animal Research in Preclinical Pharmacology. Technoscienza, 10(2), 5-30.
Rachel A. Ankeny and Sabina Leonelli (2020). Model Organisms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Boumans, M and Leonelli, S (2019) From Dirty Data to Tidy Facts: Practices of Clustering in Plant Phenomics and Business Cycles. In: Leonelli, S. and Tempini, N. (eds.) Data Journeys in the Sciences. Springer.
Dietrich, MR., Crowe, N., & Ankeny, R. "Why Study Sex by the Sea?: Marine Organisms and the Problem of Fertilization and Cell Cleavage," in The Beach and the Bench: Why Marine Studies?. Jane Maienschein, Karl Matlin, and Rachel Ankeny, Eds. (University of Chicago Press, 2019).
Leonelli, S. (2019) Data – From Objects to Assets. Nature 574, 317-321. DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-03062-w
Leonelli, S. (2019) Data Governance is Key to Interpretation: Reconceptualising Data in Data Science. Harvard Data Science Review, inaugural issue. https://doi.org/10.1162/99608f92.17405bb6
Leonelli, S. (2019) Philosophy of Biology: The Challenges of Big Data. eLife 2019; 8:e47381 doi: 10.7554/eLife.47381
Leonelli, S. (2019) Scientific Agency and Social Scaffolding in Contemporary Data-Intensive Biology. In Wimsatt, W. and Love, A. (eds.) Beyond the Meme: Articulating Dynamic Structures in Cultural Evolution. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Leonelli, S. and Tempini, N. (eds) (2019) Data Journeys in the Sciences. Springer.
Ankeny, R. and Leonelli, S. (2018). Organisms in Experimental Research. In Dietrich M, Borrello M, Harman O (Eds.) Handbook of the Historiography of Biology, Springer.
Green, S., Dietrich, M.R., Leonelli, S. and Ankeny, R.A. (2018) ‘Extreme’ organisms and the problem of generalization: interpreting the Krogh principle. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 40(4), pp. 65.
Leonelli, S. (2018) La Ricerca Scientifica Nell’Era Dei Big Data. Meltemi Editore. (“Scientific Research in the Age of Big Data”). ISBN 9788883539015.
Leonelli, S. (2018) The Time of Data: Time-Scales of Data Use in the Life Sciences. Philosophy of Science.
Prainsack, B. and Leonelli, S. (2018) Responsibility. In: Nerlich B, Smith A, Hartley S and Raman S (eds.) Science and the Politics of Openness: Here Be Monsters. Manchester University Press, pp. 97-106.
Tempini, N. and Leonelli, S. (2018) Genomics and Big Data. In: Handbook for Genomics, Health and Society. Routledge.
French translation: Leonelli, S. (2019) La Recherche Scientifique à l’Ère des Big Data: Cinq Façons Donc les Données Massive Nuisent à la Science, et Comment la Sauver. Éditions Mimésis.
Bezuidenhout, L., Leonelli, S., Kelly, A. and Rappert, B. (2017) Beyond the Digital Divide: Towards a Situated Approach to Open Data. Science and Public Policy.
Dietrich, M. (2017) Book Review: Haeckel’s Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud, by Nick Hopwood. The English Historical Review 132: 246-247
Dietrich, M. (2017) Book Review: Mario A. Fares, Ed., Natural Selection: Methods and Applications. The Quarterly Review of Biology 92 (2017), 468.
Dietrich, M. (2017) Looking Toward the Next Fifty Years at the Journal of the History of Biology. Journal of the History of Biology 50, 689-690.
Dietrich, M. (2017) The First Everett Mendelsohn Prize. Journal of the History of Biology 50: 3-4.
Dietrich, M. (2017) The Journal of the History of Biology at 50. Journal of the History of Biology 50: 1-2.
Fleming LE, Tempini N, Gordon-Brown H, Nichols G, Sarran C, Vineis P, Leonardi G, Golding B, Haines A, Kessel A, Murray V, Depledge M, Leonelli S. (2017) Big Data in Environment and Human Health: Challenges and Opportunities. Oxford Encyclopaedia for Environment and Human Health. Oxford University Press.
Leonelli, S., Arnauld, E., Davey, R., Parry, G. & Bastow, R. (2017) Data Management and Best Practice in Plant Science. Nature Plants 3, 17086. DOI: 10.1038/nplants.2017.86
Leonelli, S. (2017) Biomedical Knowledge Production in the Age of Big Data. Report for the Swiss Science and Innovation Council.
Leonelli, S. (2017) Global Data Quality Assessment and the Situated Nature of “Best” Research Practices in Biology. Data Science Journal 16(32): 1-11.
Leonelli, S. (2017) Using Objects to Inform Inference. Book Review of Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology by Robert Chapman and Alison Wylie. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
Ankeny, RA. & Leonelli, S. (2016) Repertoires: A post-Kuhnian perspective on scientific change and collaborative research, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 60: 18-28
Dietrich, M. (2016) Experimenting with Sex: Four Approaches to the Genetics of Sex Reversal before 1950. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences.38: 23-41.
Dietrich, M. (2016) Inaugurating the Everett Mendelsohn Prize, Journal of the History of Biology, 49: 1-2.
Dietrich, M. & Suarez-Diaz, E. (2016) History of Molecular Evolution, In Richard Kliman (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Biology, Volume 3. Oxford: Academic Press, 55-60.
Leonelli, S. (2016) Locating Ethics in Data Science: Responsibility and Accountability in Global and Distributed Knowledge Production. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Part A. 374: 20160122.
Leonelli, S., Rappert, B. and Davies, G. (2016) Introduction: Data Shadows: Knowledge, Openness and Absence. Society, Technology and Human Values. 42 (2): 191-202.
Levin, N. and Leonelli, S. (2016) How Does One “Open” Science? Questions of Value in Biological Research. Science, Technology and Human Values. 42 (2): 280-305.
Crowe, N., Dietrich, M.R., Alomepe, B., Antrim, A., ByrneSim, B.L., & He, Y. (2015) The Diversification of Developmental Biology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. 53, 1-15.
Dietrich, M. (2015) Explaining the “Pulse of Protoplasm”: The Search for Molecular Mechanisms of Protoplasmic Streaming. Journal of Integrative Plant Biology. 57 (2015), 14-22.
Leonelli, S., & Ankeny, RA. 2015. Repertoires: How to Transform a Project into a Research Community, BioScience, 65, 7, 701-708
Ankeny, RA., Leonelli, S., Nelson, NC., & Ramsden, E. 2014. Making organisms model human behavior: situated models in North-American alcohol research, since 1950, Science in Context, 27, 3, 485-509
Dietrich, MR., Ankeny, RA., & Chen, PM. 2014. Publication trends in model organism research, Genetics, 198, 3, 787-794
Leonelli, S., & Ankeny, R. 2013. What makes a model organism?, Endeavour, 37, 4, 209-212
Ankeny, R. 2012. Detecting themes and variations: The use of cases in developmental biology, Philosophy of Science, 79, 5, 644-654
Leonelli, S., & Ankeny, R. 2012. Re-thinking organisms: The impact of databases on model organism biology, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 43, 1, 29-36
Ankeny, R., & Leonelli, S. 2011. What's so special about model organisms?, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 42, 2 Sp Iss, 313-323
Ankeny, R. 2010. Historiographic reflections on model organisms: Or how the mureaucracy may be limiting our understanding of contemporary genetics and genomics, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 32, 1, 91-104
Interested in getting involved?
Would you like an outstanding student experience with world-class education? Our PhD students are connected with key researchers in their field of interest, working collaboratively on research projects such as Organisms and Us.
Examples of current research theses by our PhD and MPhil candidates include:
- Emerging model organisms and the conceptual web of Cognitive Science, by Dook Shepherd.
- Animal Research Ethics in Australia against a Global Backdrop, by Karina Burns.
How to apply
You’ll find full admission requirements for research degrees in the University’s Graduate Centre Academic Program Rules.
Australian citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply for a range of PhD scholarships. International students may be eligible to apply for a scholarship, but funding opportunities are limited and therefore extremely competitive.
Explore the University Scholarships available.