Lampreys may help unravel evolution of immune system

February 4, 2011 at 1:58 pm Leave a comment

GRA Eminent Scholar Max Cooper at Emory University and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, Germany, believe that predatory, primitive lampreys may represent a way to envision the evolutionary past of the immune system.  Lampreys are “living fossils” that have not changed in millions of years and are thought to be an early offshoot on the evolutionary tree, before sharks or other types of fish.

The biologists have discovered that lampreys have structures within their gills that play the same role as the thymus, the organ where immune cells called T cells develop in mammals, birds and fish.  According to Cooper, “Our research has allowed us to see that lampreys have cells that resemble our [immune system's] T cells and B cells, but until recently we did not know where they developed.”

Understanding the evolution of the immune system can help to determine ways to enhance its role in preventing and fighting infectious and non-infectious diseases.  Read more here>

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