How Insect Science Contributes to Understanding Human Immunity

Let us be honest – when reading the words “insect research”, we rather think about killing insects than about learning from them. Luxembourg born immunologist Jules A. Hoffmann has based his multi-awarded career, crowned by the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, on the opposite idea: “Our work on antimicrobial defenses in insects started out of curiosity. We realized that insects in our breeding colonies of grasshoppers were very resistant to infections, and we didn’t understand the mechanisms of this resistance”. Since the 70s, Hoffmann’s studies have unveiled similar genetic and molecular mechanisms responsible for innate immunity in insects and more complex organisms up to mammals and humans. The big leap forward took place in the mid-90s with the discovery of antimicrobial sensors in the Drosophila, commonly known as fruit fly, which overcame the prevailing paradigm that cells of the innate immune system are activated without any specificity or stimulating triggers. The still innovative approach of innate immunity offers a range of new ways to explore the interaction between infectious agents and host defense in plants, invertebrates, and mammals, clearly inspiring dramatically different therapies to treat infectious diseases.

Jules A. Hoffmann

Université de Strasbourg

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