After finishing my MSc on hormone levels and breeding behavior in the European Starling, I started my PhD-studies in 2008 on something quite different. Still, the same question intrigued me: what role do tiny molecules play in the ecology and evolution of an animal? In my PhD-project, the molecules at stake are the crucial MHC-molecules that present pieces of proteins to the immune system, which reacts if the peptide is foreign. These molecules are known to be extremely variable, enabling them to recognize a wide range of pathogens.
In our lab group we look at the genes coding for MHC in a bunch of bird species as well as, in my case in Swedens most common mammal, namely the bank vole. The bank vole is the main host of the tick-spread bacteria Borrelia and my goal is to identify MHC-genes that ultimately help the bank vole to protect itself from infection. My MHC-research is a part of a bigger project looking at infectious disease dynamics and immunology in small rodents. The vertebrate MHC genes have been duplicated several times and I investigate how the signatures of selection differ between loci of MHC genes in the bank vole. By looking at the interaction of borrelia infection and MHC defense genes, I hope to get new insight in the evolution and maintenance of variation in the genes in the MHC in wild rodents.