Prof Petros Ligoxygakis
Drosophila as a model to study innate immunity
Diversity of animals on Earth is notoriously difficult to measure. Those that have attempted it show a planet with 97% of animals without a backbone. More than 65% of those animals are insects. From pollinators to those that transmit deadly infectious diseases to humans or support life at the rainforest, insects are everywhere. And as with humans, their immune system is important for their survival. Think about the relentless microbial challenges these tiny creatures face and how we can find them in so many hostile environments full of opportunistic pathogens. How do they do it? It turns out that their immune reaction has many similarities with our initial (innate) response to infection as shown using the fruit fly Drosophila.
My lab is using “the fly” to explore how animals interact with the microbial world. Not all of it is pathogenic as we- as well as the flies- carry gut bacteria that are beneficial. Exploring how pathogens are recognised will tell us about the common thread tying innate immune recognition in all animals. We can also use the fly as a model for other difficult to work with but medically important insects on how to block their interaction with parasites. Surprisingly perhaps, too much immunity is bad for the fly as it is bad for humans. It provokes gut inflammation, brain neurodegeneration and reduced lifespan. We are working to find the mechanisms for this and identify drugs to counter these disease phenotypes.
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