B cells are immune cells that display antibodies on their surfaces, and can become antibody-secreting plasma cells. Without B cells: no antibodies to protect us against bacteria and viruses. Where B cellsÂ come from, and how they can developÂ such a broad repertoire of antibody tools, was a major puzzle of 20th century immunology, which Cooper contributed toÂ solving. (See the Nature piece to learnÂ why the “B” comes from theÂ name of an organ in chickens.)
The authorsÂ did not mention that Cooper is now at Emory studying lampreys’ immune systems, which are curiouslyÂ different fromÂ those of mammals. The similarities and differences provide insights into the evolution of ourÂ immune systems. In addition, scientists here are exploring whether lamprey’s antibody-like molecules might be turned into anticancer drugs.