The culture or wild capture of marine and freshwater shellfish, including crustaceans, is without doubt a key source of protein for a burgeoning world population. Historically the expansion of aquaculture has, however, been accompanied by the increased incidence of economically significant diseases, most notably of viral and bacterial origin. Since the late 1970s great progress has been made in our understanding of the generalized protostome innate immune system. Distinct pathways, pathogen receptor proteins and effector molecules have since been identified that are not ancestral or homologous to those of the deuterostomes, including vertebrates. Within the past decade progress has accelerated with the rapid characterisation of new classes of recognition proteins, immune effectors and regulatory pathways. This paper provides a broad overview of our current understanding of invertebrate immunology, taking the crustacean decapod immune system as its focus. Recent developments in the field are described briefly and their implications and potential considered. These advances offer fundamental new insights in our efforts to understand disease in cultured populations and also to develop knowledge of environmental effects on host/pathogen interactions within a fishery context. Of course, challenges do remain, including the lack of an immortal cell line and the limited publically-available genomic resources. These are considered in this review as priorities for future research effort. With the continued application of more insightful technologies, coupled with associated investment, it is expected that the speed at which some of these issues are resolved will accelerate.
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