One of my greatest reading experiences as a young student is the chapter on biological membranes in Stryer’s Biochemistry. The text was about how the cell perimeter is built up. The solution is as ingenious as simple: Soap! I was so thrilled that I gave away a copy of the book to a friend. Stryer was almost as exciting as a mystery novel! But what does this have to do with the immune system?
Our bodies continuously encounter microbes that pose potential or actual threats to our survival. Our immune system has to be able to detect all possible threats to our bodies, whatever shape or form they may take. So how does the immune system recognize a threat? Continue reading
One day when he was five years old Peter developed red, itchy spots on his skin. The following day the spots looked like blisters. Peter had caught chickenpox. Many of the other children in his kindergarden got chickenpox too, but why didn’t any of the adults catch it?
In 1845 a group of Dutchmen emigrated to South America and founded a colony in Suriname. Two weeks after their arrival 180 people died from typhoid fever. Two years later another 37 died of yellow fever. These two epidemics killed more than half of the Dutch emigrants in Suriname.
In 1979, more than 100 years later, blodbank doctors in the Netherlands began to unravel the mystery of these devastating epidemics. Was it arbitrary who survived the diseases? If not, what protected some people but not others? The doctors compared the 4th generation immigrants in Suriname and Dutch blood donors.
It’s rare for an entirely new disease to appear and garner worldwide attention, inflict severe social consequences, and simultaneously shed light on important biological principles.