The Immune System VS Viruses

The immune system consists of white blood cells that come in about 10 million different types. Each type has a protein lock on it called an "antibody," which corresponds to a key carried by a bacterium called an "antigen." If a key enters that lock, the white cell starts multiplying ferociously in order to produce an army of white cells to gobble up the key-carrying invader, be it a flu virus, a tuberculosis bacterium, or even the cells of a transplanted heart. But the body has a problem. It cannot keep armies of each antibody-lock ready to immobilize all types of keys because there is simply no room for millions of different types, each represented by millions of individual cells. So it keeps only a few copies of each white cell. As soon as one type of white cell meets the antigen that fits its locks, it begins multiplying. Hence the delay between the onset of flu and the immune response that cures it.

Each lock is generated by a sort of random assembly device that tries to maintain as broad a library of kinds of lock as it can, even if some of the keys that fit them have not yet been found in parasites. This is because the parasites are continually changing their keys to try to find ones that fit the host's changing locks. The immune system is therefore prepared. But this randomness means that the host is bound to produce white cells that are designed to attack its own cells among the many types it invents. To get around this, the host's own cells are equipped with a password, which is known as a major histocompatibility antigen. This stops the attack.

To win, then, the parasite must do one of the following: infect somebody else by the time the immune response hits (as flu does), conceal itself inside host cells (as the AIDS virus does), change its own keys frequently (as malaria does), or try to imitate whatever password the host's own cells carry that enable them to escape attention. Bilharzia parasites, for example, grab password molecules from host cells and stick them all over their bodies to camouflage themselves from passing white cells. Trypanosomes, which cause sleeping sickness, keep changing their keys by switching on one gene after another. The AIDS virus is craftiest of all. According to one theory it seems to keep mutating so that each generation has different keys. s. Time after time the host has locks that fit the keys and the virus gets suppressed. But eventually, after perhaps ten years, the virus's random mutation hits upon a key that the host does not have a lock for. At that point the virus has won. It has found the gap in the repertoire of the immune system's locks and runs riot. In essence, according to this theory the AIDS virus evolves until it finds a chink in the body's immune armor.


An excellent description of the battle going on inside our bodies.

Folksonomies: evolution biology immune system

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 The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Ridley , Matt (2003-05-01), The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, Harper Perennial, Retrieved on 2011-05-03
Folksonomies: evolution culture sex evolutionary psychology


04 SEP 2011

 Why Evolution is True

Memes that support the Theory of Evolution