What makes us human?

Like bipedal locomotion and complex forebrains, the immune response helps define the human condition.

My research addresses the physiological consequences of the human experience and evolutionary past, particularly those that affect the innate immune system. Current projects focus on the functional divergence and diversification of primate immune systems, how past epidemics affect present day immune function diversity and how life experience affects the innate immune response.

Comparative Primate Immunity

Humans appear uniquely susceptible to a number of diseases which are marked by a dysregulation of the early, or innate, immune response (e.g. sepsis, HIV, dengue, gonorrhea). This inherited and immediate response is mandatory for life and yet has diverged considerably amongst primate species, with humans manifesting species-specific early responses to a broad range of pathogens. Such inter-species differences are immensely informative for humand health and evolution, yet we have a very superficial understanding of the functional differences between primate immune responses and the environmental context of their emergence. This large multi-center project aims to characterize the innate immune responses of human and non-human primates, to a broad range of putatively evolutionarily important pathogens, to help explain human disease manifestation and the evolution of our species.

Past Epidemics and Human Diversity

The human immune system has diversified, with some populations exhibiting differences in early immune response to certain pathogens, or an increase likelihood of developing chronic inflammatory or autoimmune diseases. We are a young species, so such strong functional divergence in immunity is quite puzzling. One possible explanation for immune system differences is uneven selection on the immune systems of geographically separated human populations by past infectious disease epidemics. In the lab we are examining how past epidemic diseases, have altered the immune response to pathogens in different human populations.

Immunogenomics of Labour and Economy

Social rank and associated stress is known to affect immunity, and lead to broad shifts in genomic expression. We are examining how strongly ranked workplaces, highly susceptible to severe and shifting stressors, correlate with human transcriptional regulation, work performance and immune response.