Towards a paradigm shift in innate immunity—seminal work by Hans G. Boman and co-workers

Ingrid Faye, Bo G. Lindberg
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B  371:20150303


Four decades ago, immunological research was dominated by the field of lymphoid biology. It was commonly accepted that multicellular eukaryotes defend themselves through phagocytosis. The lack of lymphoid cells in insects and other simpler animals, however, led to the common notion that they might simply lack the capacity defend themselves with humoral factors. This view was challenged by microbiologist Hans G. Boman and co-workers in a series of publications that led to the advent of antimicrobial peptides as a universal arm of the immune system. Besides ingenious research, Boman ignited his work by posing the right questions. He started off by asking himself a simple question: ‘Antibodies take weeks to produce while many microbes divide hourly; so how come we stay healthy?’. This led to two key findings in the field: the discovery of an inducible and highly potent antimicrobial immune response in Drosophila in 1972, followed by the characterization of cecropin in 1981. Despite broadly being considered an insect-specific response at first, the work of Boman and co-workers eventually created a bandwagon effect that unravelled various aspects of innate immunity.

This article is part of the themed issue ‘Evolutionary ecology of arthropod antimicrobial peptides’.