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Violent sex acts boost insect's immunity system
Date:12/4/2007

The long-held idea that only vertebrates have sophisticated adaptive immune systems that can protect them for life against many pathogens after being infected by them just once has been revised in recent years. It turns out that many insects also have a form of immune memory that protects them against reinvasion by a pathogen they have previously encountered. This was just one of the striking discoveries discussed at the recent conference on Innate Immunity and the Environment, organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF).

Ironically the conference was set up to discuss innate immunity involving generic response to pathogens, rather than specific actions based on memory of past infections as in adaptive immunity. Yet the real highlight of the conference was the presentation of new research showing that insects and higher vertebrates, including humans, have much more similar immune systems than was thought, according to the conference chair professor Paul Schmid-Hempel from the Institute of Integrative Biology in Zurich. It is not just insect immune memories, but also how they recognize pathogens, that have close analogues in vertebrates, said Schmid-Hempel.

Insect innate immunity was also discussed in the context of sex, where the issue lies for females in distinguishing between hostile pathogens and male sperm, which is also after all foreign tissue. The point here is that for some insects sex is a violent act causing wounds that become infected and require a swift and powerful immune response, as Schmid-Hempel indicated. The topic was the traumatic insemination performed by some insect males, such as bedbugs, where the male injects sperm into the female through her body wall and certain sites, said Schmid-Hempel. It has now been shown these sites are very immuno-active, and that this feature is essential to keep out infections that typically enter via the insemination act. In essence, it is about the general problem that insemination
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Contact: Paul Schmid-Hempel
paul.schmid-hempel@env.ethz.ch
41-446-336-048
European Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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