About this Research Topic
“Go into partnership with nature; she does more than half the work and asks none of the fee.” – Martin H. Fisher
Recent advances in technology, particularly with respect to computing power and molecular biology techniques, provide unprecedented research opportunities that once would have just been interesting “thought” exercises. The technological advances have begun to remove barriers such as logistical constraints and lack of species-specific reagents. Despite revolutionary new tools, many long-standing gaps in our understanding of the immune system persist. Supposed cures for cancers and infectious diseases are discovered almost daily in mouse models, yet rarely do these discoveries translate to effective treatments for human or veterinary medicine. By minimizing variation controlled lab studies can precisely map immunological pathways and identify cause and effect. However, often these studies result in treatments that are specific to only a few rodent strains and rarely relevant in the genetic and environmental complexities of the real world.
An effective but largely unrealized complement to traditional immunology is to embrace natural variation in genes and the environment by studying animals in natural settings. These “wild immunology” studies can provide insights into ancient immunological defences and the evolution of the immune system, and has the potential to drive innovation for human and veterinary medicine. The explosion of published genomes from alpaca (Vicugna pacos) to zebra fish (Danio rerio) and the plummeting cost of genome and transcriptome sequencing facilitates the development of species-specific reagents that makes it no longer necessary to focus on the few well-characterized model organisms.
Another reason for immunologists to venture into wild immunology is that 60% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonoses, with over 70% of these zoonotic diseases originating in wildlife. Infections causing SARS, ebola and rabies usually lead to severe disease in humans but are asymptomatic in reservoir species such as bats. Despite the relevance of bats to global health, relatively little is known about bat immunology. Studying animal reservoirs of pathogens that cause human infections could provide clues for treatment or prevention of disease in humans and wildlife.
The focus of this research topic is to move beyond simple immunological assays and drill down into the precise cellular and molecular mechanisms that direct immune responses, concentrating on how natural models can be used to uncover deep-rooted immunological defences. The key questions to address are: Which molecules and pathways are conserved across species? Which molecules and pathways are exploited by pathogens to cause disease? What methods can be broadly used or readily adapted for wild immunology? How does co-infection and exposure to a dynamic environment affect immunity?
This research topic is intended to complement traditional immunology research with studies that have ventured out of the lab to tackle immunology amid the complexity of the real world. The answers to long-standing questions are likely out there, we just need to ask the right questions and look in the right places. We are looking forward to an enlightening and thought-provoking discussion of wild immunology on the topics of transcriptomics and genomics, checkpoint molecules, microbiota, long-term field studies, wild rodents, and veterinary medicine, and the evolution of the immune system.
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