Posted by: salamandercandy | March 13, 2007

Conservation Immunogenetics

I just realized that no one appears to have ever used the phrase “conservation immunogenetics.” I searched Google and the Web of Science for the phrase and found no hits. Time to fix that. I hereby coin the phrase “conservation immunogenetics,” defined as follows: the study of how variation at disease resistance genes affects the long-term survival of a species, and the application of this knowledge to the conservation of biodiversity.

The field of conservation immunogenetics is over 15 years old, even if no one has called it that before. In 1991, Austin Hughes published a paper arguing that vertebrate captive breeding programs should prioritize the maintenance of variation at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). His proposal was too oversimplified to be practical, and was criticized (not all MHC alleles are necessarily important, and certainly other types of genes are just as important as MHC). Nevertheless, it seems clear that species with low variation at immunity genes have a higher risk of extinction, and it is theoretically possible to identify important adaptive genetic variants that ought to be conserved. A sophisticated approach is needed, and the goal of conservation immunogenetics is learn enough to able to locate and save adaptive immunogenetic diversity within species. Conservation immunogenetics is not just restricted to captive breeding programs. For example, wild populations with unique heritable disease resistance capabilities should be special targets of conservation efforts.

Let me know if you have seen a previous example of this phrase. Otherwise, you heard it here first, folks. I’m not founding a new branch of biology, I’m just giving it a name.

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