Various scientific studies have shown that human populations respond differently to immune system challenges. But a newly published cell research study suggests that humans of African descent have a genetic advantage over their European peers.
According to findings from two studies published in the Journal Cell, people of African ancestry have a stronger immune response to infection than do people of European ancestry. The first-of-its-kind findings could lead researchers to future treatments in reducing chronic illness in African-Americans.
The first study, led by Luis Barreriro, assistant professor at the University of Montreal’s Department on Pediatrics, was conducted by extracting white blood cells from 175 Americans; 80 from African decent and 95 from European descent, DailyTech.com reports. Those cells were then injected with salmonella and listeria bacteria, as researchers monitored the response in a controlled lab environment.
Researchers found that almost 24 hours after infection, the white blood cells of Black Americans had destroyed the harmful bacteria three times faster than the white blood cells of European Americans did.
“The strength of the immune response was directly related to the percentage of genes derived from African ancestors,” Barriero said. “Basically, the more African you have in your genome, the stronger you’re going to respond to infection.”
The second study, which analyzed genetic differences in RNA sequencing between African and European genomes, found that the introduction of Neanderthal variations into the European genome resulted in decreased pro-inflammatory immune responses to infections of people of European ancestry. Researchers from the Pasteur Institute in France suspect that the genetic variations between African-Americans and whites can be traced to the fact that Neanderthals helped colonize Europe, not Africa, before they went extinct.
While both studies concluded that African-American immune systems are more effective at fighting off bacteria and infections, Barriero made sure not to label the immune systems of African descendants as “better” than ones of European descent. The downside to having a strengthened immune system is that leaves African-Americans susceptible to developing inflammatory auto-immune diseases like Lupus and Crohn’s disease, he noted.
“The genes and pathways we’ve identified constitute good candidates to explain differences we are seeing in disease between the two population groups,” Barriero stated. ” … Our results demonstrate how historical selective events continue to shape human phenotypic diversity today, including for traits that are key to controlling infection.'”
There’s been a long-held belief that African-Americans are genetically inferior to whites, highlighting the role that racial bias plays in the fields of medicine and science. Another study published earlier this year examined racism among medical professionals and its impact on disparate health outcomes between Black and white patients.
“Implicit bias and false beliefs are common — indeed, we all hold them — and it’s incumbent on us to challenge them, especially when we see them contributing to health inequities,” the report read.
Per DailyTech.com, future cell research studies will examine the influence of other factors like environment and behavior on differences in immune response. It’s hoped that future studies like the ones conducted by Barriero and French researcher Lluis Quintana-Murci of France’s Pasteur Institute will finally put these myths of Black inferiority to bed.