Evolution in Health and Medicine Sackler Colloquium: Consanguinity, human evolution, and complex diseases
There is little information on inbreeding during the critical early years of human existence. However, given the small founding group sizes and restricted mate choices it seems inevitable that intrafamilial reproduction occurred and the resultant levels of inbreeding would have been substantial. Currently, couples related as second cousins or closer (F ≥ 0.0156) and their progeny account for an estimated 10.4% of the global population. The highest rates of consanguineous marriage occur in north and sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and west, central, and south Asia. In these regions even couples who regard themselves as unrelated may exhibit high levels of homozygosity, because marriage within clan, tribe, caste, or biraderi boundaries has been a long-established tradition. Mortality in first-cousin progeny is ≈3.5% higher than in nonconsanguineous offspring, although demographic, social, and economic factors can significantly influence the outcome. Improving socioeconomic conditions and better access to health care will impact the effects of consanguinity, with a shift from infant and childhood mortality to extended morbidity. At the same time, a range of primarily social factors, including urbanization, improved female education, and smaller family sizes indicate that the global prevalence of consanguineous unions will decline. This shift in marriage patterns will initially result in decreased homozygosity, accompanied by a reduction in the expression of recessive single-gene disorders. Although the roles of common and rare gene variants in the etiology of complex disease remain contentious, it would be expected that declining consanguinity would also be reflected in reduced prevalence of complex diseases, especially in population isolates.