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Dynamics of immunity in zebrafish
Elizabeth Jerison, Stanford University
The immune system is essential to protection against pathogens. Major advances in immunology have identified the components of this complex system. But substantial challenges remain to using this ‘parts list’ to understand immune responses, because the system is at its heart collective, driven by interactions of cells throughout an organism. At the individual cell level, many immune processes are either stochastic or nonlinear; when embedded in the spatial context of an organism, this makes possible rich dynamical behavior. There is widespread optimism that tools from statistical physics may yield new insights into this system. The main roadblock to this approach is the difficulty of observing and perturbing immune responses in vivo, which limits our ability to make quantitative measurements of the dynamics at appropriate time, spatial, and replication scales. I will describe recent progress in developing a zebrafish model system to address this gap. As an example of this approach, I will discuss our observations of the random walk motility of T cells in the live zebrafish, which identified a constrained set of behavioral rules that enables exploration across many length scales. I will also describe recent progress in characterizing spatial control of inflammation in the organism, and conclude by discussing the avenues that this opens for investigating collective transitions in immunity.