Disease Resistance of Wildlife Species: how the immune system evolves and adapts

Science Center Objects

The Challenge: In an era when emerging infectious diseases are steadily increasing, human populations are exposed to virulent new pathogens.  Insight into the human system can be gained from understanding the variety of immune adaptations of wildlife species.  The vertebrate immune system is not static.  Rather, it involves in response to the environment.

The Science: To learn about  particularly effective immune responses, we study wildlife species that have heightened exposure to foreign microbes, since theory predicts they will evolve better disease resistance. Our study animal is an avian brood parasite.  We have documented that the species is  unusually resistant to West Nile and other virulent viruses, that their eggs have elevated levels of antibacterial substances, and that they have more effective innate immune responses, which are critical in controlling new infections quickly.

The Future: Since gut microbes are critical  in vertebrate immunity, we are using next generation sequencing to study the diversity of the parasitic bird's gut micro biome   We are asking whether the parasitic bird has acquired diverse elements from their foster parent species? how does the gut microbe develop?  and How  is it related to the increased effectiveness of its   immune responses.