The battle for iron

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Science  12 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6215, pp. 1299-1300
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa2468

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Infections exert selection pressures on host and pathogen alike as they both struggle to survive. Host genes important for the immune response to infection often show enhanced rates of diversification, termed positive selection, between and even within species (1, 2). Sequence analysis can reveal “hotspots” in proteins that have been selected by evolution and are critical to repel infections. For example, proteins that recognize viruses exhibit amino acid diversity in the specific regions that directly contact components of the virus (1). Of course, viruses can and do counteradapt through selection of variants that evade recognition by defense proteins (1). Bacterial infections are also likely to positively select mammalian genes important for immune defense. On page 1362 of this issue, Barber and Elde (3) provide one striking example of this that is centered on iron.