Natural selection contributed to immunological differences between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists
The shift from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural mode of subsistence is believed to have been associated with profound changes in the burden and diversity of pathogens across human populations. Yet, the extent to which the advent of agriculture affected the evolution of the human immune system remains unknown. Here we present a comparative study of variation in the transcriptional responses of peripheral blood mononuclear cells to bacterial and viral stimuli between Batwa rainforest hunter-gatherers and Bakiga agriculturalists from Uganda. We observed increased divergence between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists in the early transcriptional response to viruses compared with that for bacterial stimuli. We demonstrate that a significant fraction of these transcriptional differences are under genetic control and we show that positive natural selection has helped to shape population differences in immune regulation. Across the set of genetic variants underlying inter-population immune-response differences, however, the signatures of positive selection were disproportionately observed in the rainforest hunter-gatherers. This result is counter to expectations on the basis of the popularized notion that shifts in pathogen exposure due to the advent of agriculture imposed radically heightened selective pressures in agriculturalist populations.