A new study indicates that more woman have contributed to the gene pool of humanity than men.

Researchers in Germany have found that throughout human history, mothers have regularly outnumbered fathers, meaning more women have passed on their DNA than men.

This may sound like they have made a mistake but the researchers point to cultural biases, whereby relatively few men got to mate with multiple women and women tended to move home to live with their partners.

“Imagine a population of 100 females and 100 males,” said Mark Stoneking, who led the study at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “If all the females but only one of the males reproduced, then while the males and females contribute 50:50 to the next generation, the male contribution is all from just one male.” The next generation would all have the same Y chromosome but 100 different sets of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed solely down the maternal line.

Mr Stoneking’s team gathered together the genomes of 623 men from 51 populations around the world. They then compared the genetic diversity of the male Y chromosomes with the diversity of the men’s mitochondrial DNA.

They found that genetic differences between human populations were almost always larger for the Y chromosome than for mitochondrial DNA. The only exception was East Asia.

The researchers showed that the differences in genetic diversity arose if more women than men were breeding throughout human history. They showed an ancestral population of 60 women and 30 men were breeding in Africa before humans left the continent. Those numbers fell to around 25 women and 15 men breeding at the time of the first migration of Homo sapiens, around 70,000 years ago. The total population would have been much larger, but the others were not contributing to the gene pool.

As modern humans moved into Europe more than 45,000 years ago, the number of mothers may have outnumbered fathers by around 100 to 30, according to Stoneking. His study appears in the journal, Investigative Genetics.

“What we’ve found is that there are significant differences in the history of human males and females in different parts of the world. Understanding why that’s the case and what are the social historical processes that led to those differences are what we want to investigate now,” said Stoneking.

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