Higher organisms, such as humans, have an adaptive immune system that usually enables them to successfully combat diverse (and evolving) microbial pathogens. The adaptive immune system is not preprogrammed to respond to prescribed pathogens. Yet it mounts pathogen-specific responses against diverse microbes and establishes memory of past infections (the basis of vaccination). Although major advances have been made in understanding pertinent molecular and cellular phenomena, the mechanistic principles that govern many aspects of an immune response are not known. We illustrate how complementary approaches from the physical and life sciences can help confront this challenge. Specifically, we describe work that brings together statistical mechanics and cell biology to shed light on how key molecular/cellular components of the adaptive immune system are selected to enable pathogen-specific responses. We hope these examples encourage physical chemists to work at this crossroad of disciplines where fundamental discoveries with implications for human health might be made.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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