The grey short tailed opossum
Original Published Date: 
Monday, March 29, 2021

Full article issued by Monash University.

A team of ARC-supported researchers at Monash University, with collaborators at the University of New Mexico (US) and the US National Institutes of Health, has defined a novel T cell lineage, called γµ T cells, found only in marsupials (e.g. kangaroos and opossums) and monotremes (e.g. duckbill platypus). The discovery has the potential to expand the immunology ‘toolbox’, with potential for development as research and diagnostic tools, and as immunotherapeutics in humans to combat cancer and viral infections such as COVID-19.

Evidence for the γμ TCR came with the discovery of genes encoding the TCRμ protein whilst analysing the first complete marsupial genome, that of the South American opossum Monodelphis domestica. Using the Australian Synchrotron, the scientists at Monash University obtained a detailed three-dimensional image of the opossum γµTCR architecture that was unique and distinct from αβ or γδ TCRs.

'Many in-roads have been made in understanding the immune systems of humans and mice leading to the development of novel immunotherapeutic approaches enabling humans to combat highly pathogenic viruses. However, much less is understood about how immunity operates in other species that, in some cases, have been decimated by wildlife diseases. Ultimately our work may guide the development of novel vaccines,' says ARC Future Fellow, Dr Jérôme Le Nours from Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, co-lead author on the paper.

The research findings were a culmination of a 12-year project that involved a multidisciplinary collaborative effort and support from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging, and funding from the US National Science Foundation and US National Institutes of Health.

Photo credit: 

Evidence for the new T cell came from analysing the genes of the South American opossum Monodelphis domestica. Image: Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5).