Immunology going wild: genetic variation and immunocompetence in the mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos)
Most of the knowledge about the immune system and its response to infections has been gained from model species in controlled laboratory environments. This environment, however, differs greatly from that encountered by natural populations. Not only can wild individuals be challenged with several infections simultaneously, but they also have to cope with other challenges, such as fluctuations in food-availability or adverse weather conditions; and this might influence their immune response to an infection.
My project aims at improving our knowledge of how the immune system works in a natural context, using the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) as a study system. I will use molecular tools to study genetic variation and evolution of the innate immune system in natural populations and to study pathogen communities in individuals at Lake Constance. I will further use real-time PCR and RNAseq to learn more about the immune response during infections, and use this information to develop an assay that enables reliable and repeatable studies of immunocompetence in wild populations.