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Virtual Immunity
02 March 2013

Virtual Immunity

A dandelion head is more than a jumble of its parts. It has order brought about by a natural organisation sometimes called emergence. But this picture is not of a seed head, it’s a visual representation of a database for the innate immune system – our body’s first line of defence against bacteria but which, when it goes wrong, can lead to allergies, asthma and inflammation. Scientists investigating these common diseases painstakingly recorded over 18,000 connections between elements of the system that had been published in the scientific literature. The colours represent when the data were added: 2008-2010 in white and 2011-2012 in red. Computational biologists are using this resource as more than just a library, they’re analysing it for patterns of emergent organisation that could help identify therapeutic targets and bring about widespread improvements for these ailments.

Written by Julie Webb

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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