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Genetic chimerism is a condition in which a single organism is composed of cells with more than one distinct genotype. In animals, this means an individual derived from two or more zygotes, which can include possessing blood cells of different blood types. Elves inhabit this world, but do not possess magic in this reality. Instead, they are all what can be genetically considered chimeras because they have a strange way of reproducing.

When partners decide to conceive, A male must add his genetic material at different intervals throughout several years to the female. Genetic material could come from a single male or various ones with no connection to each other. The developing child is slowly "built" with the genetic material of one father, or the makeup of several different fathers. After enough "material" has been collected, the embryo becomes fully formed and the gestation process can begin. Because of this, the nuclear family took a different route, with polyandry being more common.

The wife of a household (usually of royal blood or high class individual) would marry multiple husbands. This would usually be two, although wealthier wives might have more if they can support them. These husbands would usually be related (brothers, cousins, etc), but having no blood ties with the woman.

This genetic anomaly among humans is the standard norm among elves. What advantages would this provide to elves as opposed to other single-insemination species?

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    $\begingroup$ It may be worth noting that there are human cultures who did in fact believe that this is how human reproduction worked, and that having a pregnant woman have sex with more men would make the child stronger. This was advantageous on a cultural level because it ensured that multiple men felt paternally responsible for every child, not just one. $\endgroup$ – Logan R. Kearsley Mar 14 at 6:05
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An interesting question, vaguely similar in some ways to X chromosome inactivation in mammal females (the process that makes a Calico cat patchwork colored, as only one set of genes expresses itself in each location).

There's actually a really great reason why the genetic mixing you propose could be advantageous, and that's the immune system. Some research into human attraction suggests that we are attracted to the pheromones/scent of someone whose immune system is as different as possible from our own. You inherit immunities from your parents, so the more different their immune systems, the more immunities you will inherit. Imagine how much better this system works with multiple fathers?

A couple points of contention might be as follows. First, one might think the immune system is not enough of a reason for such a big evolutionary difference. But this is not the case, several aspects of attraction seem to be based on immune strength (such as facial symmetry and smooth skin). It's such a driver that sickle cell anemia seems to have evolved just to prevent malaria, which says a lot about how bad the disease is if a fatal adaptation is still an advantage.

You might also point out that many of the elves only have one father. that's ok, because many adaptations to nature are subverted by the strangeness of society. But even without the immune advantage, there is an advantage to the child's safety if the parents have a strong long term bond. If a man has to stick around for a long time before he can reproduce, the children have a better chance of surviving and carrying those genes forward.

If anything, this elven system may have more advantages than our own.

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    $\begingroup$ I’m not sure I understand your comment about sickle cell. It’s absolutely true that having sickle cell is a benefit to fighting malaria, and it’s absolutely true that an increase in malaria has driven up occurrences of sickle cell, but I’m not convinced that sickle cell “evolved” exactly for this purpose. I’m also not sure how this fits into the narrative of the immune system, as the human immune system doesn’t cause sickle cell in any way. $\endgroup$ – Santana Afton Mar 13 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ @SantanaAfton Indeed it is true that with human evolution, we can only ever achieve partial confidence on what anything evolved for (in this case, a low confidence). But, sickle cell is an inherited genetic condition, that can in some circumstances increase resistance to disease. While not caused by the immune system, I think there is some semantic level at which we can say it is part of the immune defense. $\endgroup$ – CaptainSkyfish Mar 16 at 14:56
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It incentivises multiple fathers to care for the child

In nature as we know it, many animals evolved to care for their young because that maximises the chance that their genes will be passed on to the next generation. This often leads to two parents caring, protecting and providing for the young (as is common in mammals)

An elf child as you describe has a mother plus multiple fathers who are genetically incentivised (and evolved, probably) to provide care, and therefore a better chance of survival and success, more parents to pay for schoolbooks, food, teach life skills. One deadbeat dad isn't such a problem when you have three other dads. I would expect child poverty among elves to be lower than in a similar human society.

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  • $\begingroup$ I vaguely recall reading about an African species in which two females with young share a territory together and that they adopt the young of the other in the event one of them dies, thus ensuring they live. I can't remember what they are called, but it is akin to what you describe here, so it may help. $\endgroup$ – Rewan Demontay Mar 15 at 5:50
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What advantages would this provide to elves as opposed to other single-insemination species?

Social advantages

Elven society would be more strongly connected, with several fathers caring for the children and for a longer time. If traits can be chosen from the genetic material somehow, as your question seems (to me) to imply, there would likely be a lively "trade" in children makeout - families and clans selecting and breeding for some distinctive traits, valuable traits exchanged between families in political and economic agreements, and so on (something like this appears in early Vulcan history in Star Trek's Spock's World by Diane Duane).

Biological advantages - and caveats

Having chimerism and being able to control it somewhat would lead to faster evolution of traits deemed desirable. This can be a danger to the Elven race (specialization is always dangerous - when the environment you're specialized for changes, you're badly out of luck), but managed carefully and with sufficient foresight, the Elven race could vastly improve itself - strength, stamina, intelligence, resistance to disease.

All of the above involve controlled chimerism - if the elves have no saying on what traits gets passed on by which parent, then most advantages disappear.

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It increases the genetic diversity within an individual. This reduces the likelihood of inbreeding depression. This is because it reduces the chance of negative recessive traits manifesting. This should make small isolated populations more viable.

It would also make overdominance less likely.

In effect it would give everyone increased chance of "hybrid vigour" and boost outbreeding enhancement. Without needing to constantly outbreed, which would allow you to avoid outbreeding depression.

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