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rustyRusty is a 26 year old llama. He is on a special ration and we should not feed him.

Rusty lives across the parking lot from our lab in the Stevenson Center. He is not really ours at all. But we like him and he seems to like us. His hobbies are grazing and expectoration.

So why the heck would a lab that studies sharks and frogs want a llama as a mascot? Especially one with Rusty's manic temperament? While his terrific posture and handsome eyes help, the real answer lies in his humoral immune system!

3526a-4x5Antibodies are made by B cells and they are comprised of heavy and light chains... usually! In a beautiful example of homoplasy, both cartilaginous fish and camelids have evolved antibodies that use pairs of heavy chains, but with no light chains. These two very divergent groups of vertebrates both convergently arrived at this antibody innovation in their evolution. The stability and single-variable domain paratopes of these antibodies are being exploited for diverse applications. The sharks appear to go a step further and use a relative of the single chain variable on some T cells, we call this NARTCR. (No, even this wonderful molecule does not protect sharks from cancer.) Incredibly, early mammalian lineages (marsupials and monotremes) use a similar T cell receptor usually with two variable domains as well, yet from a different locus. More gorgeous convergent evolution demonstrating the diverse paths that have arrived at similar contrivances in lymphocyte receptor repertoires.

So if in the area, go visit this nice camelid. He has a a repertoire of antibody structures that most of us bony Teleostomi can only dream of! Call his name and he'll come running... but if the ears drop back you might want to take cover.