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Teach the Evolution of Our Immune System

New topic to teach as an excellent example of evolution. With recent attention brought by the exposure of its misrepresentation by the ID movement, and Michael Behe's dismissive testimony in the Dover trial, students should know about the mountain of research that has clarified over the past decade how our immune system probably evolved. It would be helpful to show the essence of the prevailing transposon hypothesis for its origin when you teach the immune system, explaining why our system is so similar to that in other animals. Remember, knowledge of its origins can open doors to its control in life-threatening situations. Read the references suggested, and develop lessons to show the power of this science in helping us to understand the evolution of this system that's so important to our survival. When you do, please share with your colleagues via ENSIweb.

The Evolution of Immunology:

This was a major target of Intelligent Design supporter Michael Behe in his Darwin's Black Box. He claimed there (and when he was cross-examined in the Dover ID trial) that the scientific literature has "no answers" as to how the adaptive immune system may have originated. He did this even when confronted with a pile of some "58 peer reviewed publications, 9 books and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not 'good enough.'" (Judge Jones, 2005). Behe admitted that he had not read many of the publications presented (a small fraction of all the literature on evolutionary immunology of the past 35 years), but summarily rejected them as unsatisfactory and dismissed the idea of doing research on the topic as "unfruitful."

Fortunately, Judge Jones could see the irony here, praised the many hard-working scientists who have made so much progress on this important subject, and chided Behe and the clearly unscientific ID movement for discouraging such efforts and attempting to seriously weaken science education.
Judge Jones, Decision, Dec. 20, 2005, 139 pp. This decision is well worth reading:


1. Andrea Bottaro, Matt A Inlay & Nicholas J Matzke (2006). Immunology in the spotlight at the Dover 'Intelligent Design' trial. Nature Immunology 7, 433 - 435 doi:10.1038/ni0506-433 READ THIS!

Abstract: "Immunology had an unexpected and decisive part in challenging the claims of 'Intelligent Design' proponents at the US trial on the teaching of evolution in public schools in Dover, Pennsylvania."

2. Capsulized explanation of the transposon hypothesis for the evolution of our immune system, plus an Annotated Bibliography on the Evolutionary Origin of the Vertebrate Immune System. Nick Matzke. VERY HELPFUL.
This site contains the same articles and books used during the Behe cross-examination that are listed in the Supplementary Material for Bottaro et al. (2006) (#4, below). Here, the citations have been placed in chronological order, and each reference is annotated with a blue box containing a short summary of the significance of the paper, and if relevant, significant quotes from the paper." "The purpose of this annotated bibliography is to give the nonspecialist reader some sense of the scholarly weight of the evolutionary immunology literature (here is another method, namely a portion of the transcript with Behe's cross-examination). In particular, this bibliography focuses attention on the scientific work that developed, tested, and established the "transposon hypothesis" for the origin of receptor rearrangement in the adaptive immune system."

3. Evolving Immunity: A More detailed explanation, fully illustrated by Matt Inlay:
(great for developing PowerPoint presentation)

4. Supplementary Material for: Bottaro, Andrea, Inlay, Matt A., and Matzke, Nicholas J. (2006). "Immunology in the spotlight at the Dover 'Intelligent Design' trial." Nature Immunology. 7(5), 433-435. May 2005. (Subscription no longer required: DOI | Journal | Google Scholar | PubMed | Supplementary Material).

"This is the list of books, textbook chapters, and articles that were presented to Defense expert Michael Behe during cross-examination in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial about the constitutionality of teaching "intelligent design." The cross-examination was conducted by Pepper-Hamilton attorney Eric Rothschild. Behe summarily dismissed the mass of scientific literature on the evolution of the immune system, despite the fact that it contradicted his previous assertion that the scientific community had "no answers" on the question. This episode was cited in Judge Jones's ruling against intelligent design, and various press accounts." Includes links to articles on-line!

5. Follow-up comments on Panda's Thumb site (PT ­ Pandas Thumb - posters in Nature Immunology