New Research Organisms

Hummingbird bobtail squid
The Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) is a model system for studying animal-bacterial symbiosis. Credit: Tom Kleindinst

A Renaissance of Biological Discovery

Scientists make use of many different organisms to address both fundamental questions in biology and development treatments for human disease. Examples of organisms used by biologists range from single celled organisms, such as bacteria, to more complex ones, such as mice.  In recent years, scientists have come to rely heavily on a few “model” organisms that have well-developed tools and communities. The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is committed to expanding the range of organisms that can be used in this way, and in creating the next generation of genetically tractable aquatic research organisms to understand the fundamental aspects of biology common to all life, including humans.

To facilitate this process, the MBL is identifying a range of promising species with remarkable properties, such as those with extreme regenerative abilities and others that rapidly adapt to environmental changes, and establishing robust protocols for raising these species in captivity.  More importantly, we are adapting modern techniques, such as genome editing, to these species and thus nucleating cutting-edge biological discovery at the MBL and taking advantage of the largely untapped wealth of diversity found in our oceans.  Investing in these resources will strategically position the MBL as a center for studying the many pressing biological questions that await exploration. 

The New Research Organisms strategic initiative, along with the Imaging Innovation Initiative, supports all areas of research at the MBL including Regeneration and Development, Cell Biology. Microbiomes, and Ecosystems.

What Research Organisms Reveal About Human Health

Much of what we know about human biology today comes from studies of marine organisms. Those discoveries have led to the development of new diagnostic tools and treatments for disease.

Sea urchins and surf clams, for example, have provided information about the complexities of cell division and fertility. Sea slugs have shed light on learning and memory, and squid have revealed how nerve cells communicate and transmit information.  While our research with novel aquatic organisms will reveal much about basic biology, it will also have direct and indirect benefits to the study of human biology and the treatment of disease.

The Next Frontier for Biological Discovery

Convening Scientists from Around the World

Marine organisms, with their many remarkable characteristics and traits, represent an exciting frontier for biological discovery. During the course of their evolution, the diversity of marine life has solved a myriad of complex problems, from thriving in extreme environments, to developing appendages and spinal cords that quickly regenerate, to building flexible bodies that can mimic the shape of objects around them.

Exploring life in the oceans will have profound effects on our understanding of biology and its applications to our own health and wellbeing. 

Since its founding over a century ago, the MBL has provided distinctive advantages for leading scientists from around the world, offering both laboratory space and an unencumbered research environment. Institutional boundaries are nonexistent at the MBL allowing MBL resident faculty, visiting faculty and students from the Advanced Training Courses, and other visiting scientists from all over the world to work together to tackle some of the most challenging questions in biology, biodiversity and ecology, and the nature of life in the oceans

Learn About Research Programs

Getting Involved with the MBL

The MBL is poised to capitalize on a unique opportunity in the biological sciences to understand the living world around us. Most of our current understanding of the basic mechanisms of biology is based on just a handful of laboratory species that represent only a small sliver of the diversity of life on Earth. A vast array of life lies waiting to be understood – or even detected – in the oceans, the next frontier for discovery.

By supporting the MBL’s mission or attending public events, the general public can help the MBL foster growth in utilizing new research organisms for advancing scientific discovery.

Support the MBL’s Mission Visit the MBL

New Research Organisms Committee


  • Josh Rosenthal, Marine Biological Laboratory
  • Karen Echeverri, Marine Biological Laboratory

Committee Members:

  • Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado, Stowers Institute for Medical Research, HHMI
  • Abhishek Kumar, Marine Biological Laboratory
  • Amy Gladfelter, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Jon Henry, Marine Biological Laboratory
  • Lisa Abbo, Marine Biological Laboratory
  • Mansi Srivastava, Harvard University
  • Marko Horb, Marine Biological Laboratory
  • Michael Levine, Princeton University
  • Mitch Sogin, Marine Biological Laboratory
  • Nicole King, University of California, Berkeley, HHMI
  • Nipam Patel, Marine Biological Laboratory
  • Patrick LaRiviere, University of Chicago
  • Paul Kulesa, Stowers Institute for Medical Research