SURF

Parinaz Fozouni

The Evolution of the Animal Innate Immune System

All animals share a common ancestor that underwent a transition to evolve multicellularity. To better understand this transition, we compare animals to choanoflagellates, their closest living relatives. Multicellular animals faced many challenges not shared by their unicellular ancestors. One such challenge was the evolution of mechanisms to defend against pathogens seeking to exploit the new niches present in a multicellular organism. My project aims to lay the groundwork for asking whether Toll-like receptors (TLRs), critical components of the innate immune system, evolved in the earliest animals to answer this challenge. As little is understood about choanoflagellate innate immunity, characterizing the role of their putative TLRs will increase our knowledge about choanoflagellate immunity, especially in hypothesizing the changing role of immunity in the evolution of multicellularity. Characterizing the role of these TLRs in choanoflagellates would provide valuable insights into the basic immunological tool kit of the last common ancestor of animals.

Message to Sponsor

The SURF Fellowship will provide me with the unique opportunity to pursue an independent research project full-time, an experience that is difficult to achieve as a full-time student during the school year. I am especially excited to pursue a project that appeals to my interests in immunology and evolution. I look forward to interacting with the other fellows and beginning my honors thesis project. Most importantly, this opportunity will provide me with the tools to independently conduct research and improve my critical thinking and planning skills. Im grateful for the support and opportunity to have such a rewarding experience.
  • Major: Molecular and Cell Biology, Political Science
  • Sponsor: Pergo Fund
  • Mentor: Nicole King, Molecular and Cell Biology