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Flies too Have Immune Memory!

Harnessing the potential power of adaptation in the innate immune system might also be a boon in the body's defense against bioterrorism or disease pandemics. "The B and T cells of the adaptive immune system take a long time to react," said Schneider. "But you might be able to speed things up if you could snort something up your nose that would make your innate immune system ready to fight."

While inviting novel ways of thinking about future vaccines and treating AIDS patients, the new finding immediately stirs up the field of insect immunology. Existing publications about the fruit fly's immune system explicitly state that it has no memory, and no ability to make specific long-term changes prompted by its exposure to pathogens. Because immune memory was defined as nonexistent, no one ever did the experiment to question whether the fly's immune system could adapt.

Then graduate student Linh Pham arrived in Schneider's lab. She was interested in pushing the boundaries of the assumptions of the innate immune system's limitations.

In the past decade or so, work done on fruit fly immunology has always been done on a fly infected only once - and that's not how things happen outside a lab, where a fly would be continually exposed to microbes. Pham thought to ask what happens when the flies encounter a microbe a second time.

Pham found a bacterium - Streptococcus pneumoniae - that infected the flies but didn't kill all of them. "I liken my work to the first vaccination experiments," said Pham, who is first author of the study. She essentially vaccinated over a million flies, typically doing 7,000 in a day, in numerous experiments. In a key experiment, she injected some flies with killed bacteria and others with just saline solution. She waited a week, then reinjected both groups with what should have been a lethal dose of live bacteria. Then she calculated the percentage of how many survived, compared with the flies that been
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