I said I would spend the first few months “exploring”. This is what the first few weeks look like:
I started off with the book Tending Adam’s Garden by Irun Cohen. I enjoyed the clear development, built using carefully defined language, of the book’s conceptual framework. I will write a review post dedicated to this book soon.
Cohen presents a very different overarching view of the immune system than that shown in textbooks, specifically highlighting differences with Clonal Selection Theory (CST) specifically. While I’m familiar with the general concept of CST, I have no knowledge of the specifics, or the research that has been done to develop it.
To remedy that, I am delving into the immunology textbook used at my university, Janeway’s Immunobiology, 8th Edition, by Kenneth Murphy (published fairly recently, in 2012). I have begun with the development and selection of B and T cells, what I consider at the moment to be the core of CST. As I read, I keep an eye out for behaviour that is poorly understood and the subject of active research.
In the textbook, I have encountered an interesting concept called “clonal ignorance” or “immunological ignorance” relating to B cells. I had little success finding papers on Google Scholar or Web of Knowledge that use these terms. Many of the ones I did find were from the 1990s. I find this curious and intend to explore further. I suspect these may be out-dated terms that haven’t been updated in the newer textbook editions to match the current literature.
After a supervisory meeting, my planned reading topics have expanded.
The initial question that sparked the idea for my project is how we define “self” in terms of immunology. There was a conference last year called “Redefining the Self” that explored this question in detail, and all of the presentations are available on the website with audio available on request. I’m pleased that I can hear these talks despite having missed the conference!
Systems theory is another area where I have to do some reading. The text suggested as an entry point was Observing Systems by Heinz von Foerster, a collection of essays published in 1982. The book is almost impossible to find, I discovered, but a later collection with many of the same essays, Understanding Understanding, should do the trick.
I think that my lack of expertise in these fields is a bonus at the moment. I’m scooping a bit of information out of each discipline, linking them together as I go, without too much baggage of preconceived notions.