Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Technology
Networks
Scientific Communities
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

A Worm's-Eye View of Immunity

Published: Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Biology professor Dennis Kim seeks to understand the physiology and evolution of host-microbe interactions by studying a simple worm.

In 1998, scientists published the first complete genome of a multicellular organism — the worm Caenorhabditis elegans. At the same time, new technologies were emerging to help researchers manipulate genes and learn more about their functions.

Around that time, Dennis Kim was looking for a new research project to do during his upcoming postdoctoral fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). He decided to try to take advantage of the new genetic tools for studying C. elegans. In particular, he wanted to delve into what’s called the “innate immune system” — the first line of defense against invaders such as viruses and bacteria.

“It was a jump into a new area for me. We had no idea what we would find,” says Kim, who is now an associate professor of biology at MIT. “By studying worms we can take a much more basic evolutionary perspective on the function of the innate immune system. We think we can learn very basic principles in a simpler host organism and also gain some perspective on the evolution of the mammalian system as well.”

The innate, or nonspecific, immune system evolved very early on in primitive animals including worms and fruit flies. Vertebrate animals, which evolved later, also have a specific immune system, which targets pathogens very precisely with antibodies, killer T cells and other cells.

In vertebrates, the innate immune system identifies pathogens and serves as an early alert system, mobilizing the immune system to launch a more specific reaction. In worms, the innate system is the only defense.

In Kim’s studies of the C. elegans immune system, he chose to investigate how the worm defends itself against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that commonly infects people with suppressed immune systems. He has since identified many genes necessary for innate immunity, most of which are involved in signaling between the cells involved in the immune response.

“A lot of serendipity came into play, as seems to always happen in science,” Kim says. “We were able to find some genes in the worm that are required to protect the worm against pathogenic bacteria. Those genes turned out to be genes also required in humans and mice for innate immune defense.”

Science and medicine

Kim, the son of Korean immigrants, was born in Des Moines, Iowa. When he was 10, his family moved to Covina, Calif., a small city east of Los Angeles. His parents always encouraged him to “find something you love to do.” In high school, Kim was drawn to math, which he continued studying at the University of California at Berkeley while majoring in biophysics.

The summer after his sophomore year, Kim got a job working in a chemistry lab studying the biophysics of photosynthesis. One of his duties was going to the grocery store for bunches of spinach to grind up so the photosynthetic enzymes could be purified. The fresher the spinach, the better the results. “I became the most discriminating buyer of spinach you’ve ever seen,” he says.

During that summer, Kim became absorbed in studying how plants use sunlight to split water to make the oxygen we breathe, and got hooked on doing lab research. Most likely he would have continued studying biophysics exclusively, he says, if not for an accident that occurred after his junior year: While riding his motor scooter near Berkeley, he was hit by a car, fracturing his leg.

Kim spent several months rehabbing the leg, unable to attend his classes. During this time, he was fascinated by how well his doctors were able to heal his injury. “I was really impressed with that. I had no inkling of going to medical school at that time, but through that experience, human health came back into my sphere of thinking,” he says.

After graduating from Berkeley, Kim decided to pursue an MD/PhD at Harvard Medical School. For his PhD in biological chemistry, he studied enzymes involved in bacterial cell-wall synthesis, which are the targets of major classes of antibiotics. After earning his MD, he did an internship and residency in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and a fellowship in infectious disease at MGH and BWH.

Although Kim now focuses mainly on lab research and teaching, he still sees patients at MGH. “I just really have always enjoyed trying to take care of sick people,” he says.

Complex interactions


Since arriving at MIT in 2005, Kim has expanded his research to focus on interactions between bacteria and C. elegans and how those interactions influence the worms’ behavior, stress physiology and aging.

For example, worms that eat harmful bacteria will then avoid that type of bacteria. Kim is looking for receptors in worm cells that interact with the molecules produced by the bacteria and trying to identify the genes and molecules involved in the resulting behavioral responses.

Many of the signaling pathways that appear to be involved in these behavioral responses are also found in humans, so Kim believes these studies could also shed light on the physiology of humans — whose bodies contain 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells. “It’s increasingly clear things we do to alter our microbial flora can have a pretty pronounced influence on our physiology,” he says.


Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 3,300+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

New Device can Study Electric Field Cancer Therapy
Microfluidic device allows study of electric field cancer therapy through low-intensity fields, preventing malignant cells spreading.
Friday, July 08, 2016
Programmable RNA Vaccines
Tests in mice show the vaccines work against Ebola, influenza, and a common parasite.
Wednesday, July 06, 2016
Seeing RNA at the Nanoscale
MIT researchers have developed a new way to image proteins and RNA inside neurons of brain tissue.
Wednesday, July 06, 2016
Tough New Hydrogel Hybrid Doesn’t Dry Out
Water-based material could be used to make artificial skin, longer-lasting contact lenses.
Friday, July 01, 2016
Wireless, Wearable Toxic-Gas Detector
Inexpensive sensors could be worn by soldiers to detect hazardous chemical agents.
Friday, July 01, 2016
New System for Detecting Explosives
Spectroscopic system with chip-scale lasers cuts detection time from minutes to microseconds.
Wednesday, June 01, 2016
Illuminating Hidden Gene Regulators
New super-resolution technique visualizes important role of short-lived enzyme clusters.
Friday, May 27, 2016
Controlling RNA in Living Cells
Modular, programmable proteins can be used to track or manipulate gene expression.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Long-Term Drug Release
New tablet attaches to the lining of the GI tract, resists being pulled away.
Thursday, April 07, 2016
Pharmacy on Demand
New, portable system can be configured to produce different drugs.
Monday, April 04, 2016
A Programming Language for Living Cells
New language lets researchers design novel biological circuits.
Monday, April 04, 2016
Why Some Tumors Withstand Treatment
Mechanism uncovered that allows cancer cells to evade targeted therapies.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Cancer Cells Remodel Environments Before Spreading
Researchers at MIT have found that the cancer cells remodel their environment to make it easier to reach nearby blood vessels.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Paving the Way for Metastasis
Cancer cells remodel their environment to make it easier to reach nearby blood vessels.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
A New Way to Discover DNA Modifications
Researchers systematically find molecules that help regulate and protect DNA.
Wednesday, March 02, 2016
Scientific News
Liquid Biopsies: Miracle Diagnostic or Next New Fad?
Thanks to the development of highly specific gene-amplification and sequencing technologies liquid biopsies access more biomarkers relevant to more cancers than ever before.
Flu Vaccine May Reduce Risk of Death For Type 2 Diabetes Patients
Researchers at Imperial College London have suggested that the vaccine may have substantial benefits for patients with long-term conditions.
Cancer Gene-Drug Combinations Ripe for Precision Medicine
The study aims to expand the number of cancer gene mutations that can be paired with a precision therapy.
Porphyrins as Catalysts in Scalable Organic Reactions
This review covers the most relevant scalable porphyrin-catalysed procedures, showing how these compounds represent broad applications in chemistry.
CDC Updates Zika Recommendations
CDC has issued updated Zika recommendations and guidance for healthcare providers with a focus on sexual transmission.
Exploiting Malaria’s Achilles’ Heel
Researchers have uncovered an Achilles' heel in malaria's anti-drug treatment arsenal that could lead to a disease cure.
Genome of 6000-Year-Old Barley Sequenced
Researchers have successfully sequenced the genome of Chalcolithic barley grains for the first time.
3D Models May Yield Ovarian Cancer Insights
Researchers are developing new tools to decipher ovarian cancer developments through a 3D printing technology.
Targeting BRAF Mutations in Thyroid Cancer
Treating metastatic thyroid cancer patients harboring a BRAF mutation with vemurafenib showed anti-tumor activity in a third of patients.
Plant Compounds Fight Together Against Colon Cancer
Research shows treating colon cancer cells with curcumin, then silymarin is more effective than treatment with each individually.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
3,300+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,800+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!