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PLoS Genet. 2006 Aug 4;2(8):e122. Epub 2006 Jun 21.

Matrilineal fertility inheritance detected in hunter-gatherer populations using the imbalance of gene genealogies.

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Laboratoire TIMC-TIMB, Faculté de Médecine, Grenoble, France.


Fertility inheritance, a phenomenon in which an individual's number of offspring is positively correlated with his or her number of siblings, is a cultural process that can have a strong impact on genetic diversity. Until now, fertility inheritance has been detected primarily using genealogical databases. In this study, we develop a new method to infer fertility inheritance from genetic data in human populations. The method is based on the reconstruction of the gene genealogy of a sample of sequences from a given population and on the computation of the degree of imbalance in this genealogy. We show indeed that this level of imbalance increases with the level of fertility inheritance, and that other phenomena such as hidden population structure are unlikely to generate a signal of imbalance in the genealogy that would be confounded with fertility inheritance. By applying our method to mtDNA samples from 37 human populations, we show that matrilineal fertility inheritance is more frequent in hunter-gatherer populations than in food-producer populations. One possible explanation for this result is that in hunter-gatherer populations, individuals belonging to large kin networks may benefit from stronger social support and may be more likely to have a large number of offspring.

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