Functional information about the large majority of the genes is still lacking in the classical eukaryotic model species Drosophila melanogaster, Caenorhabditis elegans, and Mus musculus. Because many of these genes are likely to be important in natural settings, considering explicit ecological information should increase our knowledge of gene function. Using C. elegans as an example, we discuss the importance of biotic factors as a driving force in shaping the composition and structure of the nematode genome. We highlight examples for which consideration of ecological information and natural variation have been key to the identification of novel, unexpected gene functions, and use these examples to define future research avenues for the classical genetic model taxa.
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