Which is better to be? Wild and free or tame and domesticated? That has always been an interesting philosophical question. Professor Mark Viney and colleagues at the University of Bristol compared the immune function of wild mice who have to find their own food with that of mice bred in captivity who have all food and lodging provided for them. The study found that, by most measures, the wild mice had a greater immune function. It also found that the immune function was substantially more variable among the wild mice.
Immunology is the study of the immune system. Immune systems are biological systems that organisms use to prevent invasion and parasitism by other organisms.
There are two broad, artificial subdivisions of mammalian immune systems: the innate (or natural) and the acquired (or adaptive). The innate immune system is usually meant to encompass cells and systems in the mammalian immune system that does not require previous exposure to a particular pathogen for function.
The acquired immune system encompasses cells and systems that require previous exposure, and explains the somewhat unique ability of the mammalian immune system to remember previous infections and mount a rapid and robust reaction to secondary infections. This immunological memory is due to the biology of T-cells and B-cells.
Different environments lead to different resource allocation or choices being made. For example, one (extreme) strategy may be to invest heavily in immune function to prolong healthy life: live long and safely. An alternative extreme may be to gamble all resources into fast reproduction, rather than investing in immune function: live fast and riskily.
Professor Viney concluded: “As a result of these different choices, we might expect wild animals to have very different immune responses from their captive cousins. Our findings suggest these wild mice are investing in immune responses to live long and safely, and doing so more than the captive mice.”
The next research challenge is to understand why immune responses are so varied and to identify which aspects of an individual animal’s life determines its immune function.
The study is published today in Molecular Ecology.
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