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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Jan 12;364(1513):129-42. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0166.

Analogies in the evolution of individual and social immunity.

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Evolution, Behaviour and Genetics, Biology I, University of Regensburg, 93040 Regensburg, Germany.


We compare anti-parasite defences at the level of multicellular organisms and insect societies, and find that selection by parasites at these two organisational levels is often very similar and has created a number of parallel evolutionary solutions in the host's immune response. The defence mechanisms of both individuals and insect colonies start with border defences to prevent parasite intake and are followed by soma defences that prevent the establishment and spread of the parasite between the body's cells or the social insect workers. Lastly, germ line defences are employed to inhibit infection of the reproductive tissue of organisms or the reproductive individuals in colonies. We further find sophisticated self/non-self-recognition systems operating at both levels, which appear to be vital in maintaining the integrity of the body or colony as a reproductive entity. We then expand on the regulation of immune responses and end with a contemplation of how evolution may shape the different immune components, both within and between levels. The aim of this review is to highlight common evolutionary principles acting in disease defence at the level of both individual organisms and societies, thereby linking the fields of physiological and ecological immunology.

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