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Razib Khan
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Kate Middleton

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In the wake of the post from earlier this week on the inbreeding within the House of Windsor (and current lack thereof), Luke Jostins, a subject of the British monarch, has a nice informative post up, Inbreeding, Genetic Disease and the Royal Wedding. This tidbit is of particular interest:

In fact, eleventh cousins is a pretty low degree of relatedness, by the standard of these things. A study of inbreeding in European populations found that couples from the UK are, on average, as genetically related as 6th cousins (the study looked at inbreeding in Scots, and in children of one Orkadian and one non-Orkadian. No English people, but I would be very suprised if we differed significantly). 6th cousins share about 0.006% of their DNA, and thus have about a 0.06% chance of developing a genetic disease via a common ancestor. Giving that the Royal Family are better than most at genealogy, we can probably conclude that the royal couple are less closely related than the average UK couple, and thus their children are less likely than most to suffer from a genetic disease. Good news for them, bad news for geneticists, perhaps?

That’s an interesting flip side of aristocratic consanginuity, aristocratic cosmopolitanism. For example, Victoria of Sweden, the heir to the throne, has a Brazilian maternal grandmother and German maternal grandfather. Her father is by and large of the Northern European aristocracy,* but because he is of the House of Bernadotte his paternal lineage is rooted in a region on the alpine fringe of southwest France. The European aristocracy then serves as an interesting window into how cultural context can shape genetic variation.

Also, a sidelight of curiosity is that Duchess of Cambridge (formerly Kate Middleton) has a maternal grandmother who comes from a lineage of laborers and miners. That’s certainly a commentary on the possibilities for social mobility. There is a strong likelihood that a 20th century working class laborer will be the great-great grandparent of the British monarch at some point in the 21st century.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Genetics, Inbreeding, Kate Middleton 
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Image credit: Wikimedia

A few years ago I blogged a paper on how inbred the last Spanish Habsburgs had become, leading to all sorts of ill effects. Take a look at Charles II of Spain! He was as inbred as the product of a sibling mating. An extreme case of pedigree collapse in humans if there was one. This came to mind when an amusing feature in The Philadelphia Inquirer popped into my RSS feed, In royal/commoner marriage, a happy mix of genetic diversity. The writer gets a good number of choice quotes from one of the coauthors of the Habsburg paper, who observes that Prince Charles is moderately inbred, but his pairing with the very distantly related Diana (who came from the nobility as well) basically meant that his sons were outbred. Nevertheless, there is the suggestion that extra genetic diversity can’t hurt. I don’t think this is really a major positive worth mentioning. First, there is the possibility of outbreeding depression. Honestly I doubt this will be an issue. But secondly, I think more relevant is that gains to outbreeding hit massive diminishing marginal returns rather quickly. For example, here’s the coefficient of relationship between pairs of relatives:

0.5 = Full siblings, parent-child
0.25 = Half siblings, Uncle/aunt-niece/nephew
0.125 = First cousins
0.03125 = Second cousins
0.0078125 = Third cousins

As you can see the genetic relevance of relatedness really drops off rapidly in a conventionally outbred population. There isn’t much gain I’d say to Prince William marrying a female who has a greater genetic distance from him. Though the marriage of a common Englishwoman, Kate Middleton, into the British royal family moves it further on from its relatively recent dominant German character.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Genetics, Kate Middleton, Prince William 
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Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"