Adaptive immunity and immune memory are defining characteristics of higher vertebrates. The ability to retain a record of prior infection allows the immune system to learn through experience and to respond rapidly upon secondary exposure. While the majority of vertebrates have a fully functional immune system, seahorses have a simplified system, and their close relatives, the pipefish, have lost key components of their adaptive immune machinery. Surprisingly, both seahorses and pipefish in and around the NYC area appear to show no ill effects of this immune deficit – how can this be?
BUEE students involved in this project will sample animals from local populations, and use lab-based immunological methods to probe immune activity in seahorses and pipefish. Depending on student interests and experience, this project could involve the development and testing of novel antibodies to further explore immune function or expand into more comparative studies, investigating how the basic immune response of nearshore fish is influenced by the quality of their surrounding environment.