New research has emerged suggesting genetic factors may affect the body’s immune system.

Environmental factors have historically been regarded more important than genes in a healthy immune system, according to Associate Professor John Miles of the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University, Cairns.

“[Scientists thought] it didn’t matter so much about your genetics, it mattered more about what you were exposed to in your household, but this shows the power [to fight disease] is controlled by genetics,” he says.

Along with the University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute, Brisbane, the James Cook University team studied responses of thousands of identical twins to six common viruses, including glandular fever.

In research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, it was suggested a strong immune response was passed from parents through their genes.

“These genes determine whether you mount an intense or weak immune response when confronted with a viral infection,” Prof Miles says.

Professor Miles says the team is working to identify genes responsible for a strong immune response to “work out the pathways and artificially give people [the strong] response”.

“We’re uncovering the secrets of the immune system so we can control them in the future to give everyone a strong immune response.”