21 – 22 Mar 2024

Model Organisms

Materiality, History and Politics
Model organisms are life forms used to test biological theories of various kinds in laboratory settings. Research with model organisms muddies the line between models as material objects and models as abstract entities. Model organisms are not fully constructed, since they are evolved beings, but the longer they reside in a laboratory the less they resemble their kin in the wild. At the same time the construction of biological generalities from the research results from one model organism involves an extrapolation beyond species constraints.

The aim of this symposium is to investigate how research practices and theories of life are differently deployed according to different organisms and their affordances. This is particularly evident in the choice of organism and how it produces not only bio-medical results but also generates historical, cultural, and artistic relations.

For example, the genetics of fruit flies slowly begins to stand in for genetics in general, the deep homologies discovered through cephalopod eyes surprises in part due to their supposed alienness, epigenetic effects in agouti mice give hope for human dietary diseases, the regenerative capacities of the axolotl become bound up with fantasies of immortality, and the horizontal gene transfer among archaea and bacteria undermine our notions of organismal or even philosophical individuality.


ICI Berlin
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Héloïse Athéa
Anika Bartens
Tarsh Bates
Cécile Fasel
Erin Freedman
Axel Gelfert
Tarquin Holmes
Anatolii Kozlov
Mariano Martín-Villuendas
Anna Mikkola
Celeste Pérez-Ben
Ombre Tarragnat
Jacqueline Wallis
Yoshinari Yoshida
Sabina Leonelli
Rachel Ankeny
Jan Baedke

Organized by

Maria Dębińska
Julia Sánchez-Dorado
Ben Woodard

In English

First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin
Cite as: Model Organisms: Materiality, History and Politics, symposium, ICI Berlin, 21–22 March 2024 <>