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Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

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Immunology wars: a billion antibodies

3 minutes

How our bodies can create billions of defences against disease with just 20,000 genes

How is the human body able to produce antibodies to mount a defence against any attacking microorganism – even those it’s never encountered before? After all, our mere 20,000 genes seem woefully inadequate to produce the billions of different antibodies necessary to fight every possible disease. The problem stumped researchers for decades until the Japanese scientist Susumu Tonegawa discovered the key to our incredible adaptive capacity for fighting contagions – an accomplishment that earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1987. The answer, explored in this brief animation from Nature, lies in recombination-activating genes (RAGs) – DNA-‘shuffling’ enzymes that can create proteins capable of fighting any foreign invader.

Video by Nature

Animator: Dog & Rabbit

Support Aeon

Ideas can change the world

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.

But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

Become a Friend for $5 a month or Make a one-off donation

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