Good News—Sex Keeps You Healthy, in the Long Run

For decades, theories on the genetic advantage of sexual reproduction have been put forward, but none had ever been proven in humans, until now. Researchers at the University of Montreal and the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Centre in Montreal, Canada have just shown how humanity’s predispositions to disease gradually decrease the more we mix our genetic material together. This discovery was finally made possible by the availability in recent years of repositories of biological samples and genetic data from different populations around the globe. As humans procreate, generation after generation, the exchange of genetic material between man and woman causes our species to evolve, little by little. Chromosomes from the mother and the father recombine to create the chromosomes of their child. Scientists have known for some time, however, that the parents’ genomes don’t mix together in a uniform way. Chromosomes recombine frequently in some segments of the genome, while recombination is less frequent in others. These segments of low-frequency recombination will eventually recombine as other segments do, but it will take many, many generations. More specifically, the team of Canadian researchers, led by Dr. Philip Awadalla, discovered the following: the segments of the human genome that don’t recombine as often as others also tend to carry a significantly greater proportion of the more disease-enabling genetic mutations. [Mutations, also called “variations,” happen naturally and are not necessarily a cause for concern. They occur when genes get incorrectly copied from one parent to the child or after many generations’ exposure to certain environmental factors. Some mutations are benign, some beneficial. Bad mutations, however, can increase our risk of contracting or developing debilitating or life-threatening diseases.]
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