Promiscuity and the Primate Immune System

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Science  10 Nov 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5494, pp. 1168-1170
DOI: 10.1126/science.290.5494.1168

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The behavioral and ecological factors involved in immune system evolution remain poorly explored. We present a phylogenetic analysis of white blood cell counts in primates to test three hypotheses related to disease risk: increases in risk are expected with group size or population density, exposure to soil-borne pathogens, and mating promiscuity. White blood cell counts were significantly greater in species where females have more mating partners, indicating that the risk of sexually transmitted disease is likely to be a major factor leading to systematic differences in the primate immune system.

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