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Nat Genet. 1998 Nov;20(3):278-80.

Genetic evidence for a higher female migration rate in humans.

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Program for Population Genetics, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome have been used extensively in the study of modern human origins and other phylogenetic questions, but not in the context of their sex-specific modes of transmission. mtDNA is transmitted exclusively by females, whereas the Y chromosome is passed only among males. As a result, differences in the reproductive output or migration rate of males and females will influence the geographic patterns and relative level of genetic diversity on the Y chromosome, autosomes and mtDNA (ref. 1). We have found that Y chromosome variants tend to be more localized geographically than those of mtDNA and the autosomes. The fraction of variation within human populations for Y chromosome single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) is 35.5%, versus 80-85% for the autosomes and mtDNA (refs 6-8). A higher female than male migration rate (via patrilocality, the tendency for a wife to move into her husband's natal household) explains most of this discrepancy, because diverse Y chromosomes would enter a population at a lower rate than mtDNA or the autosomes. Polygyny may also contribute, but the reduction of variation within populations that we measure for the Y chromosome, relative to the autosomes and mitochondrial DNA, is of such magnitude that differences in the effective population sizes of the sexes alone are insufficient to produce the observation.

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