Drs Ray Greek and Mark Rice have published “Animal models and conserved processes” in the journal Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling. The provisional pdf is available at http://www.tbiomed.com/content/9/1/40/abstract and the final version will be available soon. The abstract is below.
The concept of conserved processes presents unique opportunities for using nonhuman animal models in biomedical research. However, the concept must be examined in the context that humans and nonhuman animals are evolved, complex, adaptive systems. Given that nonhuman animals are examples of living systems that are differently complex from humans, what does the existence of a conserved gene or process imply for inter-species extrapolation?
We surveyed the literature including philosophy of science, biological complexity, conserved processes, evolutionary biology, comparative medicine, anti-neoplastic agents, inhalational anesthetics, and drug development journals in order to determine the value of nonhuman animal models when studying conserved processes.
Evolution through natural selection has employed components and processes both to produce the same outcomes among species but also to generate different functions and traits. Many genes and processes are conserved, but new combinations of these processes or different regulation of the genes involved in these processes have resulted in unique organisms. Further, there is a hierarchy of organization in complex living systems. At some levels, the components are simple systems that can be analyzed by mathematics or the physical sciences, while at other levels the system cannot be fully analyzed by reducing it to a physical system. The study of complex living systems must alternate between focusing on the parts and examining the intact whole organism while taking into account the connections between the two. Systems biology aims for this holism. We examined the actions of inhalational anesthetic agents and anti-neoplastic agents in order to address what the characteristics of complex living systems imply for inter-species extrapolation of traits and responses related to conserved processes.
We conclude that even the presence of conserved processes is insufficient for inter-species extrapolation when the trait or response being studied is located at higher levels of organization, is in a different module, or is influenced by other modules. However, when the examination of the conserved process occurs at the same level of organization or in the same module, and hence is subject to study solely by reductionism, then extrapolation is possible.