Brazilian twins mystery solved: It was ‘rogue gene in town’s women NOT Nazi Angel of Death Mengele’ that caused birth boom
By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
UPDATED: 15:38 GMT, 25 March 2011
- 10% birthrate may also be compounded by German settlers ‘inbreeding’
To his Brazilian patients ‘Rudolf Weiss’, a grey-haired and bewhiskered man in his 50s, was seen as very model of a kindly and urbane doctor.
But to the inmates of Auschwitz, Josef Mengele – his real name – was known as the Angel of Death, responsible for up to 400,000 deaths in sickening medical experiments.
Years later, after he had left Candido Godoi, residents of the small farming community also learned the terrifying truth that the Nazi ‘todesengel’ had lived in their midst.
Then came the strange boom in the area’s twin numbers. That Mengele had a particular fascination with the town’s pregnant women couldn’t be coincidence, could it?
For years this speculation – and others, such as whether it was something mysterious in the water –were considered possibilities.
Now, however, scientists say they have found the truth.
Ursula Matte, a geneticist in Porto Alegre, Brazil, said a series of DNA tests conducted on about 30 families since 2009 found that a specific gene appears those mothers in Candido Godoi who have borne twins.
The phenomenon is compounded by a high level of inbreeding among the population, which is composed almost entirely of German-speaking immigrants, she said.
‘We analyzed six genes and found one gene that confirms, in this population, a predisposition to the birth of twins,’ Dr Matte told the New York Times.
It was her initial study in the 1990s that set the stage for the rampant speculation about the town’s odd birth pattens.
She was the first scientist to document, in a study published in the 1990s, that the rate of twin births in the town was unusually high.
The rate of twins was especially high in São Pedro, a village of about 350 residents that is part of Cândido Godói.
Dr Matte found that from 1990 to 1994, 10 percent of the births in São Pedro were twins, compared with less than 1 percent for Brazil as a whole.
Soon lots of theories began to appear and none were more interesting than that possibility that Mengele was somehow involved.
MENGELE’S HORRIFIC EXPERIMENTS
Josef Mengele was an SS physician in Auschwitz concentration camp.
There he carried out sickening medical experiments that caused the death of up to 400,000 mainly Jewish inmates.
Mengele’s experiments included attempts to changeeye colour by injecting chemicals into children’s eyes, performing sterilisation and shock treatments.
But he was particularly fascinated by twins.
As part a bid to create a master race for Adolf Hitler he carried out genetic experiments to find the key to producing twins.
The aim was to artificially increase the Aryan birthrate.
In 1945 he fled the advancing Red Army and made his way to South America.
It is there that the medic, who is believed to have been responsible for up to 400,000 deaths in medical experiments at Auschwitz, may have succeeded in his mission.
Baffled scientists had been struggling to come up with a reason for the high proportion twins in the tiny Brazilian comunity of Candido Godoi – most of them blonde-haired and blue-eyed.
It was thought that Mengele’s fascination with pregnant women there may have been to blame.
He was never captured.
The German doctor, who evaded capture his entire life, had moved around southern Brazil in the 1960s at about the time the births were thought to have really taken off.
An Argentine journalist suggested in a 2008 book that Mengele conducted experiments on women in Cândido Godói that resulted in a baby boom of twins, many of whom have blonde hair and blue eyes.
Mengele, who died in Brazil in 1979, was notorious for his often-deadly experiments on twins at Auschwitz in a bid to produce a master Aryan race for Adolf Hitler
But the study led by Dr Matte analysed 6,615 baptism certificates dating back 80 years in the predominantly Roman Catholic town and found that the twins phenomenon existed in the 1930s, ‘long before Mengele’s period’.
She said: ‘In the initial stages of our research we immediately disproved any involvement with Mengele.’
Her team of 20 researchers also tested the town’s water supply and uncovered no abnormalities.
While studying the baptism certificates, they found a high rate of inbreeding as there were few women that did not have twins within a first-degree relation.
The scientists believe that a small number of immigrant families living in São Pedro may have brought the variant gene to the region.
‘This does not mean that it is a universal gene,’ Dr Matte added. ‘If I take twins from New Zealand and test them, it will probably generate a different result.’
She is set to present the results of her study in Cândido Godói today.