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PostPosted: Sun May 02, 2010 3:58 am 
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Unnatural selection: Darwin’s family damaged by inbreeding

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/s ... 114113.ece

The children of Charles Darwin, whose theories on evolution revolutionised science, may have been genetically blighted themselves — because of generations of inbreeding in his own family.

Researchers have linked a series of marriages between cousins from Darwin’s family and that of Emma Wedgwood, who became his wife, to the high levels of infertility and premature death that beset both their wider families as well as their children.

Charles and Emma, who were also first cousins, had 10 children, of whom three died early, while three were infertile. Studies of Darwin’s ancestors show a history of intermarriage between the Darwins and Wedgwoods that could have produced multiple genetic defects.

Such marriages were so common in Darwin’s family, according to research by James Moore, professor of science history at the Open University, that both of Darwin’s maternal grandparents and his mother were Wedgwoods.

Moore said: “In Victorian times it was quite common for cousins to marry but the level of intermarriage in these families was unusual even then.” He found that:

Darwin’s maternal grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, the founder of the pottery dynasty, had married his third cousin, Sarah, and had eight children.

The couple’s eldest daughter, Susannah Wedgwood, married Robert Darwin, her cousin. Charles was their child.

Josiah and Sarah’s second eldest son, also Josiah, had nine children, of whom four, including Emma, married first cousins.

Moore, who is about to publish a research paper on Darwin, said: “The results of this unintended experiment in close-cousin breeding are striking — 26 children were born from these first-cousin marriages, yet 19 of the offspring did not reproduce. Five died prematurely, five were unmarried and considered deficient and nine married without issue.

“Among the 62 aunts, uncles and cousins in the four generations founded by Josiah and Sarah, 38 remained childless. Just as Britain’s population was booming, the fertility of Darwins and Wedgwoods was falling.”

Moore’s findings are supported by Michael Golubovsky, professor of molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, who has published research into the infertility of three of Darwin’s children.

He suggests the Darwin and Wedgwood families both carried a mutant gene linked to infertility. Since humans carry two copies of most genes such mutants are usually masked by the normal version.

Golubovsky believes Charles and Emma both carried a single copy of the mutant gene and three of their offspring, William, Henrietta and Leonard, inherited a double dose, one from each parent. This left them infertile.


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PostPosted: Sun May 02, 2010 5:01 pm 
Computer Whizz
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Interesting article Kris.

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PostPosted: Tue May 04, 2010 1:31 am 
Genealogist in Waiting
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Interesting on a number of levels! How fascinating ... the connection between Darwin and the Wedgwood pottery!


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