As stated in the title: is there any realistic way to either evolve (in our evolutionary past) or acquire via genetic engineering an immune system better than what we already have? I tried to do some research, but it looks like our current immune system is already pretty good compromise between "immunity" and "autoimmune disease", moreover any disease-specific gene mutations (like this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CCR5#CCR5-%CE%9432) seem to have downsides, like increased susceptibility to other diseases.

One idea I had before was to replace adaptive immune system with whitelist-based approach, targeting every strand of DNA whose checksum fails to comply with anything on a fixed whitelist - but then we would need somehow to make humans independent from any symbiotic bacteria, and severely limit the population gene pool (because "too different" embryos would be killed in the womb). So, not really a good idea, right?

So, is there anything that could be improved? (and how?)

Edit: I am asking only about some inheritable biological traits, like (positive) mutations, not something that may be received during the lifetime, like drugs and vaccines.

  • $\begingroup$ The problem is that you have a constant war between your organism and billions of pathogens that are constantly evolving to infiltrate your system. $\endgroup$
    – Sasha
    Jan 27 '19 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Sasha Yes, exactly - I know that immune system is already doing an amazing job and that's why I am at loss in figuring out "what else" could have been improved $\endgroup$
    – Ijon
    Jan 27 '19 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ This question is unclear to me. Boost it against what? What outcome are you looking for? And what are you expecting as an answer? Something detailed as you might find in a medical book? or something that only allows for suspension of disbelief? $\endgroup$ Jan 27 '19 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Against diseases in general. Yes, I admit it's pretty broad, but I basically want to know what issues could be (realistically) fixed given some luck. $\endgroup$
    – Ijon
    Jan 28 '19 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ Do mutations that are not explicitly part of the immune system work for this question? e.g. Our stomachs. Hydrochloric acid not only helps to break down food for the the body, it also helps the immune system by eliminating bacteria and pathogens that are harmful to us. Or is your question strictly about mutations that would help in a scenario in which somebody stuck you with a needle of "killer disease A" ? $\endgroup$
    – Lonha
    Jan 29 '19 at 3:24

Augment immune defense against cancer by altering the PD-1 system.

In the past 5 years there has been an enormous surge of interest in augmenting the immune system against cancers. Certain cancers evade immune attack via a molecule called PD-1, which provides cells with a sort of diplomatic immunity. Cancers hijack this system. If you block PD-1, many cancers become susceptible to immune attack.


The groundwork was laid in the 1990s, when scientists learned that human cells carry certain proteins on their surface that enable them to escape attack from the body’s immune system. That was followed by the discovery by Dana-Farber scientists that many cancer cells wear one of those same proteins, called PD-L1 – part of an elaborate masquerade that allows the cancer cells to live and multiply without harrassment from the immune system.

The implications of that finding, published in 2001, were self-evident: find a way to block PD-L1, or the proteins on immune system cells that “see” PD-L1, and the command that once prevented an immune system attack on cancer would be lifted.

Drugs that operate via this mechanism are now approved and in use against many cancer types. Currently these drugs are approved for treatment of existing cancers, but efforts to use them for cancer prevention are underway.

People sometimes get autoimmune disease when they have the PD-1 system blocked. But if you altered that system to still protect normal cells to some degree but make it less easy for cancer cells to counterfeit, an effective immune response might prevent these cancers from getting established in the first place. If you are going to rejigger the immune system genetically, that would be a rational place to start.

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    $\begingroup$ Wow, that seems to be a critical system vulnerability. Thanks for that information! Neverheard about that. $\endgroup$ Jan 28 '19 at 8:42

You mentioned a whitelist-based approach. Fleshing that out, you would need immune cells to read dna/rna of every cell (how to access that without harming good cells?), calculate the *NA's checksum and compare it against a whitelist (one copy stored in each of these cells). Then they could let the processed cell pass or mark it for destruction.

If you consider that to still be realistic, you could swap out the checksum+whitelist mechanism for a species/clade-detection+whitelist one. Ideally, the level of clade stored could vary, so that all mammals are okayed (if you have foreign mammal DNA in your body, it can only be your own child or a transplanted organ), but rogue strands of originally benign bacteria can be weeded out.


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