Variety, the spice of immunology

Can ecologists help immunologists understand how immune responses vary in the wild?

Vanessa Schipani
Jan 12, 2011
In humans and wild animal populations, immune responses can vary greatly between individuals, species, and environments -- yet, the vast majority of immunological studies are conducted on well-fed, parasite-free, genetically similar lab mice. Recently, however, ecologists and immunologists have begun to join forces to study the long-suspected variability of immune systems in wild populations."Lab mice live in really happy conditions" compared to animals in the wild, said linkurl:Tom Little,; an evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, but "we can't just study things under really happy conditions [because] it's just not what's normal...What if everything we know about the immune system only really happened in the lab?"
Image: Wikimedia commons, Aaron Logan
Indeed, a recent comparison of the immune functions of wild and lab mice revealed that wild mice generally had stronger immune responses than their laboratory counterparts."There's got to be at least 100,000 papers that looked...
Image: Wikimedia commons, Eirian Evans
Functional EcologyA. Graham et al., "Fitness Correlates of Heritable Variation in Antibody Responsiveness in a Wild Mammal," Science, 330:662-65, 2010.S.R. Abolins et al., "Measures of immune function of wild mice, Mus musculus," Molecular Ecology, AOP, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04910.x, 2010.