The evolution of the immune system

The evolution of the vertebrate immune system has always been a puzzle that excited both evolutionists and molecular biologists.  How could a system evolve in which one’s body could produce many copies of a specific antibody, of which there are thousands of possible forms?  There simply couldn’t be as many genes are there are antibodies we are capable of making!  In a concise, three-page review in this week’s Science,  John Travis does a superb job of tying together the history of work on the immune system with the recent excitement that its evolution hinged critically on a moveable genetic element (containing two important genes) acquired from another species — perhaps a virus.  Travis also discussed the evolution of innate immunity — that immunity not produced by genetic recombination among existing genes.

The clear, engaging prose of this piece, combined with its evolutionary perspective, makes it a must-read for those of us who aren’t familiar with the latest work on this most enigmatic of molecular adaptations.


A cell eating invading bacteria (phagocytosis).  From the Science article.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] How did something as complex as an immune system evolve? Check out this article; there is a cool photo of bacteria being eaten by a […]

  2. […] Jerry Coyne is a world class scientists and a best selling author. His blog keeps you up to date on new discoveries in evolution and new results in zoology. He also pulls no punches on his assault on […]

%d bloggers like this: