(Photo: Ulrike Klenke and Zeev Pancer, Center of Marine Biotechnology, UMBI, Baltimore, Md.)
Researchers have begun to investigate how lampreys’ immune systems detect foreign molecules. As in a jawed vertebrate, the lamprey depends on an inelegant “number-crunching” strategy: its immune system generates up to 100 trillion unique receptors so that one might match up against a foreign invader.
In both jawless and jawed vertebrates, this stew of receptor proteins is formed in the lymphocytes. Both stimulate recombining, inserting, and deleting of DNA to produce the variety. However, the two clades differ in just how it happens. That is not surprising because they have evolved separately since the jawed vs. jawless split.
This is a promising line of research. Tune in to future reports from U.S. National Science Foundation about this promising line of research.