The evolution of the immune system of jawed vertebrates with its vast array of clonally expressed lymphocyte receptors is usually viewed as optimized for the defense of the organism. There is a clear association between neo-Darwinism, the dominant view in current biology, and the usual description of immunological activity as adaptive immunity. Herein, using the concepts of spandrels and exaptation created by Gould and coworkers, we review data from comparative immunology and claim that the immune system was not formed as a system optimized for the defense of the organism, but rather may be viewed as a spandrel, a consequence of processes not originally linked to interactions with foreign materials.

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