Charles Darwin carried out experiments on inbreeding in plants that led him to worry about the health of his children, note Francisco Ceballos and his colleagues in this month's BioScience. The researchers then examine the family trees of both Charles Darwin and his wife Emma Wedgewood, who was also his first cousin, to determine if Darwin's fears were founded — and the researchers say they were. The Darwin/Wedgewood lineage contains many consanguineous marriages and the researchers combed through it to look at how inbreeding affected childhood mortality over four generations. From that, they reported a statistically significant association between childhood mortality and inbreeding and for Darwin's children in particular, the researchers found "an inbreeding coefficient of 0.0630, meaning more than 6% of their autosomal genome is expected to be homozygous." His children, then, were at "increased risk of suffering the effects of detrimental recessive alleles" and the researchers suspect that that may be behind the infertility of three of Darwin's children.
Darwin's Family Tree Under Examination
May 04, 2010