Model organisms, such as fruit flies, mice and zebra fish, are the undisputed protagonists of twenty-first-century biology. Their prominent position as experimental systems has been further enhanced by the recent sequencing of their genomes, which opened up new opportunities for cross-species comparisons and inferences (the so-called ‘post-genomic era’). Such comparative research requires that facts about model organisms be able to travel across a multitude of research contexts. Indeed, the very idea of focusing on a limited set of organisms stems from the desire to bring together as many facts about these organisms as possible, in the hope to increase the scientific understanding of their biology and thus use them as representatives for the study of other species. Moreover, the high costs associated with the production of facts make their use beyond their context of production into an economic, as well as a scientific, priority.
Fulfilling this goal is complicated by the diversity of disciplinary approaches, methods, assumptions and techniques characterising biological research. Each research group tends to develop its own epistemic culture, encompassing specific skills, beliefs, interests and preferred materials. Further, biologists tend to adapt their methods and interests to the features of their organism of choice, thus amplifying the existing diversity among research communities. This pluralism in approaches makes it difficult to make facts travel to contexts other than the one in which they have been produced, as researchers do not share a common terminology, conceptual apparatus, tacit knowledge or set of instruments. The global nature of biological research makes travel even harder: Not only do facts need to cross disciplinary and cultural boundaries, but they also need to travel great distances, becoming accessible to biologists regardless of their geographic location.