A "Mother's Curse" of DNA transfer from mothers to their children may explain why women outlive men, according to a new study published in Current Biology.
According to the research, the secret to women's staying power lies in the energy-generating parts of our cells known as mitochondria, which have their own DNA distinct from the DNA that lives in the center of the cell's nucleus, according to LiveScience. In virtually every species, this mitochondria DNA is passed down from a mother to her child, without DNA from the father.
Because of this handing-off of genes, harmful genetic mutilations may be able to accumulate, including those that cause harm to men but not women, according to the study. Because the natural selection process works only in mothers' mitochondria, it eliminates mutations that could hurt females, the Independent reported.
"If a mitochondrial mutation pops up that is benign in females, or a mutation pops up that is beneficial to females, this mutation will slip through the gates of natural selection and go through to the next generation," study researcher Damian Dowling, an evolutionary biologist at Monash University in Australia, told reporters.
Dowling and his team conducted a study with fruit flies in which they injected diverse mitochondrial DNA from different strains of fly into a group of fruit flies with the same cellular DNA, according to LiveScience.
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They then recorded how fast the flies aged and died, and found that the mitochondrial variations influenced the life expectancy in the male flies — the female flies remained unaffected, according to the Telegraph.
"Intriguingly, these same mutations have no effects on patterns of ageing in females. They only affect males," Dowling said, according to MedicalXpress. "All animals possess mitochondria, and the tendency for females to outlive males is common to many different species. Our results therefore suggest that the mitochondrial mutations we have uncovered will generally cause faster male ageing across the animal kingdom."
They dubbed the phenomenon the "Mother's Curse."
"These findings …offer a new and compelling explanation to one of life’s greatest puzzles – why the female of many species, including humans, live longer than the males," co-researcher Dr David Clancy of Lancaster University told the Telegraph.
Worldwide, there times as many women over the age of 100 than there are men, according to the Telegraph.
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