London: Charles Darwin’s children may have blighted themselves genetically because of generations of inbreeding in his own family.
The research, led by James Moore, professor of science history at the Open University, has associated a series of marriages between cousins from Darwin’s family and that of Emma Wedgwood, who became his wife, to increased levels of infertility and premature death – something 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.
According to studies conducted on Darwin’s ancestors, a history of intermarriage between the Darwins and Wedgwoods that could have produced multiple genetic defects can be seen.
And such marriages were so common in Darwin’s family 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.”
The Times reports, “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 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.”