From bird flu to the West Nile virus, bird diseases can have a vast impact on humans. Thus, understanding bird immune systems can help people in a variety of ways, including protecting ourselves from disease and protecting our interests in birds as food animals. An important element in the immune system of many animals' immune systems -- including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and most animals with a backbone -- is a protein called tristetraprolin, or TTP. TTP plays an anti-inflammatory role, largely through keeping another protein, called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF), in check. Studies have shown that mice bred without TTP develop chronic inflammation that affects their entire bodies. Even animals missing TTP in just one immune cell type develop a catastrophic and deadly inflammation when they're exposed to tiny amounts of a molecule from bacteria, underlying the importance of this protein. And yet, researchers have not been able to find TTP in birds. Could birds really be that different from the vast majority of their closest animal relatives? To answer that question, researcher Perry Blackshear and his colleagues at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences conducted a comprehensive examination, using several different methods to look for TTP in birds. Their results suggest that birds are truly an anomaly, having no analog for TTP in their immune systems.
As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.