On the first Monday, 12 Biology majors filed into an Olin classroom, unsure what the course BY359: The Host Response to Pathogens, taught by Dr. Stephanie Schittone held in store for us. As a second semester senior, this course would complete my major in Biology, and would be the last science course I would take at Colorado College.
As an upper level biology course, the class consists of students who are both well-versed in general biology prerequisite classes (genetics, microbiology, etc..), yet simultaneously offer a wide array of knowledge, diverse experiences and course histories, This makes for an interesting, exciting, engaging course with intelligent questions, fun anecdotes, and exciting “Eureka!”moments every day. Eureka moments are one of my favorite things about science classes. That moment where a connection is made in your head, and you get chills down your body at the synthesis of new knowledge. You have done it! You have learned! You are now smarter than the moment before. This is so exhilarating, so enthusing, this is what feeds my soul. Learning is the most exciting thing that life has to offer.
One Eureka moment I had during the first week was concerning an element of the immune system. In the immune response, there are different levels of the immune defense that increases with strength and specificity as time goes on. One of these defenses is through immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are antibodies that recognize and bind to foreign antigens (from pathogens) to neutralize the effect of the antigen in the immune system. There are different classes of immunoglobulins, each with specific, different functions. Let’s delve into an example. Immunoglobulin E (E for epsilon) is a class of antibody that recognizes parasites. Parasites have been eradicated from the United States due to water purification regulations. Thus, Immunoglobulin E has found itself bored, with nothing to do. What do you do when you are bored? The answer, of course, is obvious. You find something else to do! The theory is that Immunoglobulin E found itself something to do. Now, the exact mechanism of how this next part works is a little unclear; but supposedly, Immunoglobulin E has evolved to identify other molecules as potential dangers to the body. We call them allergies. While there is also a genetic component, allergies are the antigen that Immunoglobulin E “entertains” itself with. This theory is strengthened by the frequency of allergies in countries and continents with parasites. Allergies are very infrequent in countries with parasites. This can be explained by – anybody know it? – the fact that Immunoglobulin E can be found mounting a defense against parasites, and cannot find the time to be bored! AMAZING STUFF ISN’T IT.
Everyone knows what the stomach bug is. The common cold is …… common. More severe bacterial infections like MRSA have sparked public fear around the country. But what happens inside your body? How does the body fight off these pathogens? The 12 of us have begun a journey inside the body, into the lives of immune cells, and into the fight against pathogens.
We delved into the basic immune response almost immediately, and I was struck with how skilled the body is at protecting itself. Various levels of immune response work together to activate higher and more specific attacks on foreign bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. The body is an exquisite work of art.
I’ll let this sink in. We will get more specific in a bit. Get ready!
Talk to you soon.