The majority of immunological knowledge we have today has been gained from laboratory studies, primarily using inbred mouse strains as model organisms held under defined conditions. This approach is instrumental in gaining precise mechanistic insight into how the immune system functions. Yet, animals, including humans, live in an uncontrolled environment and contend with a multitude of environmental changes and challenges at once, and across their lifetime. With a strong background in mechanistic immunology, I have turned towards the discipline of Ecoimmunology, an upcoming interdisciplinary research area which aims to understand the causes and consequences of immune variation by studying wild or semi-wild animals. The incorporation of naturally-occurring environmental and host-intrinsic variables more closely represents how an animal’s immune system is shaped throughout a lifetime. This is achieved by combining the seemingly opposing strengths of ecology (uncovering broad patterns within a naturally diverse study population) and immunology (mechanistic insight into immune functions by minimising variation in a controlled model system). Within the framework of the One Health approach, building bridges across these two disciplines and insights from this work will have implications for both public health and livestock/wild animal health and thereby conservation efforts.
I have a long-standing interest in immune tolerance, immune regulation and regeneration and how these are shaped by environmental factors. Especially at barrier sites such as the gut, which are constantly exposed to external stimuli, the immune system has the challenging role of striking the balance between controlling infections, promoting immunological tolerance against innocuous or commensal antigens, and limiting immunopathology. By combining mechanistic immunology with field-based ecological study design, I aim to investigate how immune regulation is achieved and maintained under diverse pressures in animals in their natural habitat. In future, I aim to build on these insights through comparative studies across species and habitats, as well as through field-to-lab and lab-to-field experimental designs, to enable a holistic understanding of the factors supporting immune tolerance, regulation and regeneration and thereby health.