WASHINGTON, D.C. April 4, 2013 A young scientist's astute observation that grasshoppers don't get sick eventually led to profound insights into our own immunity. Jules Hoffmann, PhD, Professor of Integrative Biology at Strasbourg University, Institute of Advanced Science, France Emeritus, and 2011 Nobel Prize recipient in Physiology or Medicine is the scientist who made these insights. He described his scientific journey in the keynote lecture on April 3, 2013, the opening night of the Genetics Society of America's 54th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in Washington, D.C., April 3-7, 2013.
A father who was "an enthusiastic entomologist" and a high school biology teacher sparked Dr. Hoffmann's early interest in insects, in post-World War II Luxembourg. Later, Dr. Hoffmann marveled at the apparent ability of grasshoppers to evade infection, even when he transplanted organs among them as an undergraduate at the University of Strasbourg. How did this happen?
For his doctoral work at the Institute of Zoology in Strasbourg, France, he discovered a blood-producing tissue near the insect's heart that when damaged with X-rays, led to body-wide infection and failure to molt. After earning his PhD in experimental biology in 1969, Dr. Hoffmann pursued endocrinology for postdoctoral work. In 1978 he became director of the laboratory of endocrinology and immunology at the University of Strasbourg.
In 1990, Dr. Hoffmann's lab replaced the grasshopper with the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, and moved on to a genetic dissection of antimicrobial defense. The group focused on innate immunity, the ancient arm of the immune defense that provides generalized protection against common pathogens.
"At that time, innate immunity was not considered as essential and hardly studied at all. Immunity was mainly seen in the context of antibodies and vaccination" the responses of the adaptive (acquired) immune response, he said. Innate i
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