The full text of this exciting new paper is online today: Feeding immunity: physiological and behavioral responses to infection and resource limitation. The article appears in a special feature of Frontiers in Immunology entitled Wild immunity -- the answers are out there. Congratulations to Sarah Budischak, Andrea Graham, and coauthors!
One of the most exciting aspects of this paper is the idea of "rewilding laboratory mice" to begin understanding the ecology of this model organism in genetics and medicine. What happens when lab mice are infected with an intestinal parasite, put outside, and tasked with surviving in a world with limited resources?
Add on top of that all of the exciting technology brought together to probe this creative experiment for mechanism -- PIT tags, DNA metabarcoding, NMR spectroscopy -- and you've got the makings of a classic. In this experiment, custom-built feeding devices capable of tracking foraging behavior, paired with DNA metabarcoding, revealed compensatory feeding behaviors by mice that otherwise might have masked the effects of infection.
Especially relevant to research in our lab, a hormone called leptin that serves as an indicator of hunger and body fat was correlated with consumption of different species of wild plants. Animals with higher leptin concentrations tended to eat more protein-rich clovers and other legumes than did animals with lower leptin, potentially pointing to different foraging behaviors and differential selectivity for wild foods as mechanisms for dealing with infection while reestablishing a dietary niche after generations in the laboratory. Although the effect sizes for the DNA metabarcoding data were small, these tantalizing trends highlight the importance of these measurements and the value of the technique. A valuable contribution.