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Study: Darwin was right to worry that marriage to his cousin affected his offspring

l health of his children might be due to the nature of the marriage, and he came to that because of his work on plants. He realized that with breeding of any kind, it's better to cross-breed than to put close relatives together," said Tim Berra, lead author of the study and professor emeritus of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State's Mansfield campus.

"We conclude that it may well be that he had some justification for his worry about his offspring. But it's not all genetic doom and gloom three of his sons were so prominent that they were knighted by Queen Victoria for their achievements."

The research is published in the current issue of the journal BioScience.

Berra became aware of Darwin's pedigree and the famous scientist's related worries about his children's health as he conducted research for a recent biography, Charles Darwin: The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man (2009, Johns Hopkins University Press).

Darwin himself was sickly, and contemporary researchers have theorized that he suffered from Chagas disease inflicted by insects in South America during his voyage on the HMS Beagle.

He obsessively logged information about his own health, which may have influenced his interest in his children's health, Berra said. But he also recognized from his botanical research that the long tradition of intermarriage between the Darwins and the Wedgwoods a common practice among prominent families in Victorian England might have had the unintended consequence of harming the health of his children.

Darwin's third child, Mary Eleanor, lived for only 23 days and died in 1842 of an unknown cause. Annie, his first daughter and second child, died in 1851, and his last child, Charles Waring, died at 18 months of scarlet fever in 1858.

Shortly after he completed the book, Berra's co-authors on this paper, Gonzalo Alvarez and Francisco Ceballos of the Universidad de Santiago de Compostel

Contact: Tim Berra
Ohio State University

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