Garvan Breakthrough December 2019


Garvan researchers are uncovering gene variants that shaped the evolution of the human immune system.

With the likeness of a carefully arranged mosaic, this microscopy image reveals some of the complexities of the digestive system. Such images – this one a cross section of a mouse colon imaged by immunologist Dr Nathan Zammit – help our researchers understand the impact that genetic variants may have on the human gut. In a recent study, a Garvan-led research team discovered a gene variant that modern humans acquired from an extinct human population known as the Denisovans. The variant appears to have ‘tuned’ the human immune system to better adapt to changing pathogens in the environment 50,000 years ago.

By investigating the impact of this Denisovan variant on the mouse colon, the researchers discovered that tuning immunity comes at a cost: a heightened immune response can attack the body’s beneficial microbes found in the gut.

This image graces the cover of the October 2019 issue of the prestigious scientific journal Nature Immunology, in which the research was published.

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