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During their month or two of existence, fruit flies live in filth teeming with bacteria and fungi. Still, "they don't get sick because they've got really good innate immunity," observes R. Alan B. Ezekowitz, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School. Innate immunity—a system of sensors, receptors, signaling molecules, and antimicrobial peptides—protects organisms immediately after exposure to an infectious agent.

In Drosophila melanogaster, this system operates through two biochemical pathways: Toll, also present...

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