Understanding Immunity

The concept of immunity is based on an animal’s ability to recognize “self” and “non-self.” Differentiation between what should be present in the animal and what shouldn’t be (something foreign) allows for the animal’s immune system to neutralize or destroy toxins or invading microorganisms which are “non-self.”


There are two branches of immunity that every animal has: passive and acquired immunity. Passive immunity is shorter duration immunity resulting from the transfer of antibodies to a naive animal, one that has never been exposed to the disease/microorganism that causes that particular antibody to be made. We are all familiar with this type of immunity in the form of the importance of colostrum for newborn animals. The “non-self” microorganisms have surface structures, known as antigens, that the immune system can learn to recognize. Think of antigens as keys that can unlock specific immune response. This recognition, followed by a tailored response to the microorganism is known as acquired immunity. Vaccinations are a form of acquired immunity.

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