Assistant Professor of Biology Cynthia Downs has been awarded a $22,114 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to support her project "RUI: Collaborative Research: Constraints of biomass on innate immunity across terrestrial mammals."
Downs’ project proposal asks: Why are some species more susceptible to and more likely to act as reservoirs for parasites whereas others are resistant? Perhaps the physical size of hosts is important. Host size likely affects i) the chance of exposure to infectious organisms, ii) the ability of immune defenses to keep pace with pathogen replication, and/or iii) the ability of hosts to detect threats in a comparatively large risk space. Although body mass is one of the strongest influences on other physiological traits, effects of body size are effectively unknown for immune systems.
Here, Downs and her main collaborators, Marty Martin, University of South Florida; Ray Ball, Lowry Park Zoo; and Rays Jiang, University of South Florida, will investigate whether and how body mass is related to antimicrobial immune defenses in terrestrial mammals. Specifically, they will ask how functional forms of innate immunity relate to body size among >150 terrestrial mammal species spanning 7 orders of magnitude in size.
In addition, Downs and the other researchers will ask how protein expression for innate immune defenses relate to body mass among 10 primate species spanning fiver orders of magnitude in size. Such a broad understanding of mammalian immune variation has the potential to enhance models of disease spread by providing predictions about the level of immune defense expected in species never before studied.
Finally, participants in this project will use this research to develop outreach activities for zoos and biology classes at local schools. These activities will demonstrate how comparative research is relevant to understanding human and animal health.