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Tropical Fish Evolutionary Genetics to Shed Light on our Immune System

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Published on : Nov 07, 2017

For decades, there have been relentless research for understanding the evolutionary genetics of the immune system in vertebrates, including humans. Amidst debates regarding the evolution of certain immune genes, without markedly changing their functions are necessary for fighting against rapidly evolving parasites. Scientists have conducted a one-of-its kind research that will expand our understanding into how changes happen. Researchers at Dalhousie University, Canada, and the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, conducted a study on the survival strategy of guppy (Poecilia reticulate), by analyzing the functions of Major Histocompatibility Complex or MHC genes. They found that MHC genes could be made to adapt and survive in a variety of environments while helping the tropical fish maintain all vital functions performed since million of years.

The study is published online on November 3, 2017 in the journal Nature Communications. The findings are helping in solving the puzzle surrounding the evolutionary genetics of related species to fight against newly evolving parasitic threats. Furthermore, the results are useful in shedding light on the striking similarity our immune system have with those of chimpanzees.

Subtypes of Proteins Identified in Triggering Immune System to Act against Parasitic Threats

Guppy fish, largely native to Trinidad, Tobago, and parts of South America, pose as a splendid model of understanding the ecology and evolution of vertebrates. MHC genes can produce a variety of proteins on the surface of the cells, which identifies parasites or pathogens through their shape. These then acts a signaling system triggering the immune response in fish. The scientists performed the study on as many as 59 populations of guppy and identified functional groups responsible for their defense mechanism and called them ‘subtypes’. These subtypes are found across all variants of MHC genes, called 'alleles', and protects the body against certain parasitic groups specific to a certain population.

The study is significant for resolving several previous puzzling revelations on the evolutionary genetics of other species.