Monday, 6 April 2015

The debacle of the Darwin-Wedgwood family

Much is known about Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and his fascinating studies, such as the Origin of the Species (1859) or The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). But, what could you tell me about his family? Did you know that he had ten children? And did you know that he was married with his first cousin? Come with us to discover more about this prodigious man and the old and ugly habit of inbreeding.

Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood

Charles R. Darwin was by far the most prominent personality of his family. Son of Robert W. Darwin and Susanna Wedgwood, he married Emma Wedgwood, daughter of his mother's brother, Josiah Wedgwood II, and Elisabeth Alen, at the age of 30.

They probably knew their situation as cousins, but what they possibly did not know were the consequences of this marriage, more specifically of the deleterious effects of inbreeding in their offspring. From the ten children they begot, three did not survive before reaching 10 years of age. Besides, only three were able to give them grandchildren.

Charles Darwin family tree. Curious fact: The parents of Elizabeth Allen, mother of Emma Wedgwood, were also cousins

The curious thing is that Darwin was, at the same time, worried about his children health, and studying the problems caused by inbreeding in some plant species. 

On the other hand, some of his offspring were member of the Royal Society despite the supposedly genetic disadvantage. This is one reason why some people have speculated, fairly or not, with the possibility that Charles Darwin was related and passionate with eugenics. But what most of the people probably don't know is that Sir Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, was a relative of Darwin.

Astonished? This is just the tip of the iceberg! Follow us in Twitter (@GenesAndBeyond) and FB (Genetics and Beyond) and find out more from the past, the present and the future of science.

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