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Increased Disease Risk, Genetic Studies Of Inbred Populations

Inbreeding is defined as mating between related individuals. It is also called consanguinity, meaning "mixing of the blood." Although some plants successfully self-fertilize (the most extreme case of inbreeding), biological mechanisms are in place in many organisms, from fungi to humans, to encourage cross-fertilization. In human populations, customs and laws in many countries have been developed to prevent marriages between closely related individuals (e.g., siblings and first cousins). Despite these proscriptions, genetic counselors are frequently presented with the question "If I marry my cousin, what is the chance that we will have a baby who has a disease?" The answer is that when two partners are related their chance to have a baby with a disease or birth defect is higher than the background risk in the general population.

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Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 2