The research in Smith Lab is focused around innate immune system of sea urchin, in particular the role SpTransformer proteins in pathogen detection and removal of Vibrio bacteria.
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The Animal Model
Left: The ventral side of the California purple sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, shows five teeth, many tube feet, and both large and small spines. Right: A close-up of the mouth shows the tips of the teeth, the discs of the tube feet (small circles), and the smaller spines on the ventral side of the animal near the mouth.
Echinoderms have a complex, multilayered anti-pathogen response that encompasses many anti-microbial peptides, lectins, agglutinins, and other proteins plus the diverse family of SpTransformer (SpTrf) proteins. We have hypothesized that SpTrf proteins have analogous functions in host protection as antibodies in higher vertebrates, particularly for augmenting phagocytosis and destruction of potential pathogens.
The Immune Cells
A subset of large polygonal phagocytes (P) and small phagocytes (S) express the native SpTranfsformer (SpTrf) proteins. Medium phagocytes (M) express large quantities of SpTrf proteins that are not associated with vesicles.
The Immune Molecules
This alignment of some of the SpTransformer (SpTrf) proteins from the purple sea urchin. The SpTrf proteins appear to have anti-pathogen function including opsonization that augments phagocytosis of foreign microbes.