This excellent and informative post from Pryce Michener from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, on the Immune Response Session.


isemph website banner option 1This session dealt with immune response and the evolution of the immune system.
One of the highlights of the session was a talk by Seth Barribeau, who discussed the system bumblebees use to transfer immune memory across generations. If a queen bee is exposed to certain pathogens, her offspring will be better equipped to deal with those pathogens even if they’ve never encountered them before. This system (found in several invertebrates) is very different from the human adaptive immune system, and future study in this model could potentially help inform novel approaches to vaccines.

Another talk was by Emily Wroblewski, who studied MHC immune system genes in chimpanzees and bonobos. She was primarily looking at which alleles of the MHC-B gene confer protection or susceptibility to Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). Because bonobos don’t get SIV, she compared chimpanzees who do suffer from SIV with bonobos and found several alleles that might help protect against the virus. These alleles were similar to a human allele in the same MHC-B gene that helps protect against HIV.

The final talk of the session was also about primates. Particularly, it was about whether or not humans are under- or over-parasitized compared to other primates. We know of about 1400 parasites that affect humans and very few that affect other primates. For example, we only know of about 80 parasites that affect gorillas. Caroline Amoroso worked to build a mathematical model to compare humans with the other primates to see if these numbers made sense, and it turns out that they did. Despite the high number of parasites that affect us, we are still in line with other primates when the huge geographic range of humans and several other variables are taken into account. In fact, her results suggest that we might even be under-parasitized comparatively.

All in all, it was a great set of talks, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from these researchers in the future.