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According to work from Broden et al. (2015), the variation in the human immune system is largely driven by non-heritable influences.

If there is little heritibility how can the genocide of native Americans have happened?

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    $\begingroup$ Your question is unclear. Please spell out the reasoning and assumptions underlying it. $\endgroup$ – iayork Mar 2 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ Downvoted because there WAS no genocide of American Indians. Genocide at the very least implies intent. There was no more intent in the various virgin field epidemics in the Americas than there was in the similar epidemics, such as the Black Plague, in Europe. Even those diseases that became endemic to Europe, such as smallpox, had high death tolls: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_smallpox $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 3 at 4:16
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf — While incontrovertible evidence of germ-warfare against native Americans is lacking, there is at least one documented example of orders being issued to use smallpox against native Americans. It is also hard to argue against genocidal intent when there are letters saying things like "to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race" ... $\endgroup$ – tyersome Mar 3 at 5:29
  • $\begingroup$ @tyersome: While there have been various attempts at intentionally spreading diseases (it's hardly reasonable to call it "germ warfare" when people had no idea of germs) throughout history (and not just in the Americas), the incident you're referring to is something that happened centuries later than the immediate post-Columbus virgin field epidemics. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 3 at 17:28
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If you are referring to the massive death toll among native Americans due to the epidemic disease outbreaks after first contact with European settlers, then the answer is rather straightforward (Science magazine News, 2016):

The immune system is a complex structure, built over a person’s life in response to environmental conditions. Antibodies, proteins that tag and attack viruses and bacteria, “remember” past invaders, allowing white blood cells to quickly respond during subsequent infections. Because different groups of people encounter different diseases—the European settlers had high exposure to smallpox, measles, and influenza thanks to close contact with livestock—they develop different antibodies.

Because the native Americans lacked exposure, they were highly susceptible to these new diseases.

Note, however, that their genetic make-up may have contributed as well (Science magazine News, 2016). A team of researchers compared skeletal remains of indigenous peoples (after being decimated by European disease) with their living descendants and found that:

...several immune-related gene variants that were rare among the living. For example, a variant of a gene known as a HLA-DQA1, which codes for proteins that sort healthy cells from invading viruses and bacteria, was found in nearly 100% of ancient individuals, but in only 36% of modern ones.

This finding suggests that the immune-related genes of the indigenous peoples were well-adapted to local diseases, but not to novel, European bugs causing smallpox and measles.

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  • $\begingroup$ But every European was unexposed to, say, measles at birth, until they were exposed, and most survived that. I think it's fairer to say that Europeans were all descended from survivors of these diseases, and Americans were not. $\endgroup$ – swbarnes2 Mar 2 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ @swbarnes2: European babies were the offspring of parents who almost certainly had survived measles (and other diseases), and so passed on some immunity, whether through genetic factors or by maternal immunity. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 3 at 4:20
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There was extensive pre columbian contact so the entire theory may be rejected. Example

The claim that smallpox killed all the natives originated from historians. There was never any science or evidence behind it. As the other answer showed modern natives actually have less of the purported genes. Biologists have no need to defend it.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome. Can you add more sources and detail to your answer to allow other users to background read on your material? The linked paper is on Vikings and certainly adds another dimension to this question. However, Columbus arrived in 1492 in the Americas, Vikings reigned from 700 - 1000 AD, leaving quite a gap. Further, according to wikipedia they didn't make it past Greenland. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 2 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see your point $\endgroup$ – user57123 Mar 2 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Biology.SE! Please take the tour and then consult the help pages for advice on How to Answer effectively on this site. In particular, your "answer" seems more like a comment on the question rather than an attempt to answer it. Thank you! 😊 $\endgroup$ – tyersome Mar 6 at 17:50

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