Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Promiscuity May Be Key Factor In Immune System Evolution, Study Suggests

Date:
November 13, 2000
Source:
University Of Virginia
Summary:
A study being published in Science indicates that evolution of the immune system may be directly linked to the sexual activity of a species.

A new study indicates that evolution of the immune system may be directly linked to the sexual activity of a species. A comparative analysis of 41 primate species demonstrates that the most promiscuous species have naturally higher white blood cell (WBC) counts -- the first line of defense against infectious disease -- than more monogamous species. The findings will be reported in the Nov. 10 issue of the journal Science.

"Our findings strongly suggest that the most sexually-active species of primates may have evolved elevated immune systems as a defense mechanism against disease," says principal investigator Charles L. Nunn, a research associate in the Department of Biology at the University of Virginia. "We looked at animal species with a range of mating behaviors and found a strong relationship between high WBC counts and high promiscuity in healthy animals. The more monogamous species have lower WBC counts."

The researchers compared 20 years of data on average white blood cell counts for 41 primate species. The 41 species represent the major primate evolutionary groups and the full range of mating behaviors. Some of the species are highly promiscuous, such as the Barbary macaque, whose females may mate with up to ten males per day while in heat. Other species have varying levels of monogamy, including some that mate with one partner for life. The researchers found a direct correlation between WBC levels and mating behavior. Data for each species come from zoos and are composed of veterinary reports of basal, or normal, WBC counts for healthy females.

"The implication of our finding is that the risk of sexually transmitted disease is likely to be a major factor leading to systematic differences in the primate immune system," Nunn says. "This puts the evolution of sexual behavior in close relation to the evolution of the immune system."

The researchers also compared other behavioral and social factors that might affect the animals' immune systems, including high population density, which increases the risk of exposure to disease, as well as exposure levels to soil-borne pathogens, namely fecal contamination. They found that mating promiscuity affected WBC counts far more than other disease risk factors.

"We expected to see a correlation between WBC counts and various behavioral and ecological factors, but were surprised to find that sexual activity appears to be the key factor in how the immune system develops," says co-author John L. Gittleman, U.Va. associate professor of biology. "This opens up many new questions about behavior and the immune system."

The researchers also compared mean WBC counts of humans to the various primate WBC counts, and found that humans are on par with the more monogamous primate species.

"Based on this comparison, humans are more similar to the more monogamous primate species," Nunn says.

The research is funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and was conducted by three U.Va. scientists in the Department of Biology: Nunn, who specializes in primates; Gittleman, who uses computational methods to study evolution; and Janis Antonovics, who studies sexually transmitted diseases.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Virginia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Virginia. "Promiscuity May Be Key Factor In Immune System Evolution, Study Suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 November 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/11/001109152702.htm>.
University Of Virginia. (2000, November 13). Promiscuity May Be Key Factor In Immune System Evolution, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/11/001109152702.htm
University Of Virginia. "Promiscuity May Be Key Factor In Immune System Evolution, Study Suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/11/001109152702.htm (accessed August 22, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) New England farms are seeing a surge in younger farm hands as the 'buy local' food movement grows across the country. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, spiders that live in cities are bigger, fatter and multiply faster. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins