Understanding the ancient evolution and function of innate immunity
The human innate immune system has long been considered the result of extensive evolutionary innovations in metazoans. However, this dogma has now been challenged. Recent studies show that essential components of the cell-autonomous innate immune system have ancient evolutionary roots in prokaryotic defense systems that protect bacteria from phages. Nonetheless, while we know that certain components of the innate immune response were inherited from prokaryotes, a large portion of functional and mechanistic diversity across the tree of life remains so far uncharted territory. Therefore, in my future research, I will explore the evolutionary links between prokaryotic and eukaryotic immune systems. For this, I aim to focus on evolutionary transitions such as lifestyle changes in bacteria and basal eukaryotes that have the potential to elucidate the evolutionary history and function of central innate immune components. Utilizing a bottom-up approach harnessing the diversity of microbes will lead to the discovery of novel concepts, functions and processes in immunity across all domains of life including plants and animals.