Home | Bird Research or Recent News | Research Update – Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata) Vary Their Immune System Response in Accordance With Their Life Stage and Other Factors

Research Update – Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata) Vary Their Immune System Response in Accordance With Their Life Stage and Other Factors

The colorful little zebra finch’s popularity as a pet makes it easy to forget its long history as a valuable research animal – from genetics to pharmacology, this species’ contributions have been extraordinary. This month, studies of the zebra finch have once again yielded new insights that may have far reaching implications.

A Plastic Immune System Response
According to an article published in the September, 2008 issue of American Naturalist, immune response in these birds is not the rigid, pre-set system it was once believed to be. Rather, zebra finches somehow balance the “metabolic cost” of their response to disease against other drains on their metabolisms. Pathogens may not be met with an all-out response if other factors are draining the birds of energy or nutrition.

Do Zebra Finches hold the key to human disease control?

For example, males exhibit a lower immune response when molting into their colorful, adult plumage, a process which likely uses up a great deal of the birds’ resources. Females that are laying eggs, especially if food is not abundant, also limit the functioning of their immune systems. Interestingly, only birds that have a well functioning immune system seem able to scale back their response to disease threats; those with weaker baseline immune systems respond as strongly as possible in all situations.

Future Benefits for People
This work may help to reveal if our own immune systems function differently at various points in our lives, and may point the way to new ways of viewing human disease and infection.


On a related topic, an interesting article illustrating how some birds alter the amount of energy invested in finding a mate is posted at:

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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