A team of genetic researchers during a recent study concluded that evolutionary forces drive a glaring gender imbalance in the occurrence of many health conditions, including autism.
The human genome has evolved to favour the inheritance of very different characteristics in males and females, which in turn makes men more vulnerable to a host of physical and mental health conditions, say the researchers responsible for a new paper published in the Journal of Molecular Evolution.
Their analysis shows that while there are certain conditions that occur only in women (cervical cancer and ovarian cancer, for example), or much more frequently in women (such as multiple sclerosis), men are more prone to medical conditions overall and, as a result, on average die sooner than women.
“Our cells have memories and they carry the accumulation of all the changes our ancestors have experienced over millions of years,” says Rama Singh, a McMaster biology professor who wrote the paper with his son, Karun Singh, an associate professor of neuropathology at the University of Toronto, and Shiva Singh (no relation), a biology professor at Western University.
The researchers looked at autism as an illustration of the general tendency for men to develop medical conditions more often than women. Though women and men inherit the same genetic blueprints from their parents, the way those blueprints are expressed is very different, depending on sex.
“If women and men were any more different, they would be different species,” jokes Rama Singh, the paper’s corresponding author.
The researchers’ work is part of