Echinoderm Immunity

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A survey for immune genes in the genome for the purple sea urchin has shown that the immune system is complex and sophisticated. By inference, immune responses of all echinoderms may be similar. The immune system is mediated by several types of coelomocytes that are also useful as sensors of environmental stresses. There are a number of large gene families in the purple sea urchin genome that function in immunity and of which at least one appears to employ novel approaches for sequence diversification. Echinoderms have a simpler complement system, a large set of lectin genes and a number of antimicrobial peptides. Profiling the immune genes expressed by coelomocytes and the proteins in the coelomic fluid provide detailed information about immune functions in the sea urchin. The importance of echinoderms in maintaining marine ecosystem stability and the disastrous effects of their removal due to disease will require future collaborations between ecologists and immunologists working towards understanding and preserving marine habitats.