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18th century Feodor Vassilyev is said to have had children by two wives, each of whom only ever had twins, triplets or quadruplets. His first wife has 16 sets of twins, 7 of triplets and 4 of quads; his second had 6 sets of twins and 2 of triplets. Is there any known plausible biological explanation for this, or do we have to dismiss it as a fabrication?

I could understand a woman's body being unusually susceptible to multiple births. I can't find information on whether these women tended to have monozygotic or polyzygotic offspring, but neither option seems unviable to me. However, since it's unlikely two of Feodor's sexual partners would share such a trait, one would think to attribute it to him. Presumably there would have to be a mechanism by which paternal DNA can trigger embryo fissions, in which case I imagine the offspring would be polyzygotic.

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Risk factors for dizygotic twinning are related to multiple follicular development, and include maternal family history, ethnicity, geography, maternal parity, maternal age, and, of course, use of assisted reproductive technology. There may be a genetic component to monozygotic twinning as well, but that rate is fairly consistent across populations. Other risk factors, such as diet and supplementation, have been proposed, but the data are less robust. There are some interesting studies demonstrating geographic clusters of twinning, but these tend to be demographic clusters that are associated with other risk factors.

Though a higher risk of twinning can be transmitted from a father to his daughters, the father's family history of twinning is not a significant risk factor (for his own children to be twins). To clarify -- if a man has a family history of multiple births, his children are no more likely to be twins than the general population, but his daughers are more likely to give birth to twins. This study is one example of the studies that have shown a significant independent association between maternal family history and twinning, with no significant independent association with paternal family history.

As far as the case of Feodor Vassilyev is concerned, many people have lived on this earth, making very unlikely events in a single instance more likely to have ever occurred. I would say this case is either a hoax or a rare chance event. There is no modern data I'm aware of that would support a paternal genetic reason that this particular man produced so many multiples.

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