Westermarck's theory of incest taboo states that inhibition of sexual attraction between biologically close relatives is situational and develops during co-residence in early childhood. By contrast, the biological (genetic) basis of incest taboo is presumed from its universality in all human societies and animals and teleologically, from the need to prevent the detrimental effects of inbreeding. As incest taboo violation is infrequent, the frequency of the presumed gene in the population is believed to be near 100%. We present arguments which suggest that the incestuous gene may exist in all populations and could play an important role in evolution. When malaria emerged 10,000 years ago, human adaptation proceeded by the selection of protective genotypes. Among them, homozygotes for alpha-thalassemia, hemoglobin C, and Duffy antigen negative blood group, have better survival odds in malarious regions than heterozygotes and those with normal genotypes. Since consanguinity increases homozygosity, it increases the number of persons who are resistant to malaria. To procreate, however, biologically close individuals must not feel sexual aversion that normally develops between those who spend their early childhood together (Westermarck effect). It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that mutation of the gene that discourages inbreeding may have appeared at an early time in evolution, and produced a weak Westermarck effect. This gene (we will call it anti-w) failed to inhibit mating between kins. Inbred offspring of anti-w carriers, would statistically, more likely carry both anti-w and homozygote genotypes which increase fitness in the presence of malaria. Today, alpha-thalassemia is the single most common monogenetic disorders in man with over 500 millions carriers concentrated in malarious regions of the world. The world's consanguineous population is some 500-800 millions and is also concentrated in malarious regions. Population migration has spread the gene outside areas of high malaria endemicity. However, endemicity of malaria provides a worldwide gradient of genotype frequencies which makes the incestuous gene hypothesis testable. We propose that the incestuous anti-w allele was co-selected with some of the genes protective against malaria because anti-w facilitates mating between genetically close individuals whose offspring better survive malaria.
ASJC Scopus subject areas