Experimental animals at the MPIIB
At the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, we work with various animal species in addition to numerous non-animal methods. These include model organisms such as zebrafish and fruit flies to elucidate basic biological mechanisms and experimental animals such as the Anopheles mosquito to study malaria transmission. Here we briefly introduce the animal species from our research.
The fruit fly is one of the most common experimental animals in science. On warm summer days, fruit flies are often found around fruit baskets in the kitchen―scientists use them as model organisms for basic research. Fruit flies are easy to keep and multiply quickly. By using these relatively simple insects, we can explore basic biological mechanisms, replacing experiments on more highly organized organisms such as vertebrates.
Here at MPIIB, scientists in the Cellular Microbiology Research Group are using fruit flies to investigate the role of histones in our immune system. The Genetics of Host-Microbe Interactions research group uses fruit flies to investigate the influence of the gut microbiome on infections.
Malaria is an infectious disease that is caused by the parasite Plasmodium. The malaria vectors―mosquitos―are also in the focus of malaria research. In our institute we keep different species of the mosquito genus Anopheles in a warm and humid climate. Depending on their stage of development, the mosquitoes live in small water bowls or net boxes. For reproduction, they need to be fed regularly with donated blood. Due to the risk of infection, we only work with mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite in specially secured areas.
At the MPIIB, the Vector Biology Research Group is investigating how malaria parasites and mosquitoes interact. In this way, the scientists want to better understand which mosquitoes are particularly good (or particularly bad) at transmitting malaria.
Zebrafish are not only popular with aquarium owners. Since the 1960s, the small fish have become a versatile experimental animal in biological research. As a vertebrate, the zebrafish has many genes with the same or similar functions in mammals and thus also in humans. This makes it a suitable model organism for studying human diseases. For example, scientists can observe and analyze an infection with tuberculosis in zebrafish. At our institute, the research group In vivo Cell Biology of Infections uses zebrafish to investigate how tuberculosis granulomas develop.
Among the laboratory animals kept at our institute, the mouse is our closest relative. Mice are by far the most frequently used mammals for animal experiments. Groundbreaking discoveries in the field of immunobiology would not have been possible without these small rodents. For example, the role of antibodies in resistance to pathogens or the principle of immune tolerance to the body's own tissue were first explored in mice.
At the MPIIB, mice are used to investigate which genes can induce tolerance to Salmonella and how signaling pathways influence autoimmune diseases in humans.
After the mouse, the rat is the second most commonly used laboratory animal. Rats have been used in research for about 200 years. They are the domesticated form of the Norway rat, Rattus norvegicus. Valuable insights into diabetes and wound healing have been gained through rats. Since 2021, they have also been kept in very small numbers at MPIIB and used in experiments to study neutrophil extracellular trap formation and its role in infection control.