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article imageOp-Ed: A 40 million war with germs for iron — Immunity and stealth

By Paul Wallis     Dec 12, 2014 in Health
Just when you think you’ve got a grip on a subject, along comes a bit of news like this — one of the strategies the body uses to fight disease is to make sources of iron invisible to invading germs.
A new study indicates this war for resources has been going on for 40 million years. It’s called “nutritional immunity.” This is a really fascinating idea, let alone a fact, as Science Daily explains:
This defense mechanism starves infectious bacteria by hiding circulating iron, an essential nutrient it needs for survival. The protein that transports iron in the blood, transferrin, tucks the trace metal safely out of reach.
Clever as it sounds, the ploy is not enough to keep invaders at bay. Several bacterial pathogens -- including those that cause meningitis, gonorrhea, and sepsis -- have developed a weapon, transferrin binding protein (TbpA), that latches onto transferrin and steal its iron. Though scientists have known of the offensive strategy, they failed to realize how pivotal the battle over iron has been in the conflict between host and pathogen.
Sufficiently baffled by this information? To quote Marcus Aurelius, it’s all part of the great web. Presumably the large number of cobwebs which grow over research information. Apparently “science has known about the nutritional immunity issue for 40 years." Pity the subject didn't get more attention over the last couple of generations so people could have figured out how to manage iron in their diets during diseases, but apparently now we know.
(Exactly why information of this type has to be pursued on a whim or whenever the funds are available to researchers isn't clear, but you couldn't call it systematic. Financial bean counting and medical research are not a good mix of perspectives. The war for iron seems to be a fundamental dynamic in managing pathogens. You’d think someone might have paid more attention to it than waiting 40 years to getting round to identifying the mechanism.)
…And yes, folks, there’s even a science of nutritional immunology, just when “nutrition” is being replaced with “crap” around the world. Check out Tufts University’s page explaining what nutritional immunology research is all about.
Anyhow, getting back on topic — the new research show the effects of 40 million years’ worth of tussling with pathogens for available iron. There’s a genetic trail of collateral damage and repairs going back to the early primates. Interestingly, about 25 percent of the world’s population has an effective way of hiding iron, which effectively camouflages the iron from some heavy duty bacteria.
This information will be used for strategies to combat emerging diseases including antibiotic resistant bacteria. Who knows, maybe they’ll come up with a way of managing defences against untested, unproven, unbelievable Franken-foods, too. Someone should.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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