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Surprising Science

Why Women May Outlive Men

A genome passed down to a child by the mother may contribute to a longer life span in women versus their male counterparts. 

Article written by guest writer Rin Mitchell


What’s the Latest Development?

Mitochondria have its own DNA separate from the rest of the DNA genome and researchers believe the “loophole” in the genome may be responsible for a shorter life span in men. The DNA is passed down to children only by their mothers. According to a recent study, “the direct line of inheritance may allow harmful mutations to accumulate.” It can be dangerous to males, but harmless to females—leading researchers to believe this causes a shorter life span in men. The idea was tested in fruit flies, by inserting the mitochondrial DNA of 13 different fruit fly populations around the world into fruit flies with the same cellular DNA. “There was a lot of variation in terms of male longevity and male aging, but almost no variation in the female parameters of aging.” 

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What’s the Big Idea?

There has been speculation that the life span of men was shorter because they take bigger risks than women or that women outlived men because of the effect testosterone has on a man’s longevity. However, the discovery of a maternal genome gives researchers new insight into why women may outlive men. “Males may not be entirely doomed, however, as evidenced by the fact that they haven’t gone extinct yet. It’s possible that the nuclear genome—the DNA we inherit from both of our parents—might be compensating for the mitochondrial handicap in men. “


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