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  • 17 Oct 2023
  • 5 min read

For Prelims: Consanguinity, Genetic diseases, Inbreeding, Cystic fibrosis

For Mains: Benefits and Challenges Related to Consanguinity, Health

Source: TH

Why in News?

Recent studies delves into the influence of consanguinity on genetics and health. It elucidates how this widespread tradition affects disease susceptibility and the development of human traits within global populations.

What is Consanguinity?

  • Consanguinity involves both social and genetic dimensions. Socially, it means marrying blood relatives, such as cousins or siblings, while genetically, it refers to unions between closely related individuals, often termed inbreeding.
    • It is a construct that has implications for both family and population genetics.

What are the Key Takeaways from the Studies Related to Consanguinity ?

  • Approximately 15-20% of the world's population practices consanguinity, with higher prevalence in regions like Asia and West Africa.
    • Some ancient human civilizations, including the Egyptians and Incas, are believed to have practiced consanguinity.
    • Genetic evidence suggests that King Tutankhamun of Egypt was born to parents who were blood relatives.
  • India has more than 4,000 endogamous groups where people marry within the same caste/tribe or group, making it a fertile ground for consanguinity studies.
  • It was found that consanguinity has increased mortality rates and the prevalence of recessive genetic diseases in populations where it is practiced.

What are the Benefits and Challenges Related to Consanguinity?

  • Benefits:
    • Preservation of Cultural and Social Traditions: In some societies, marrying within the family is a long-standing tradition that helps preserve cultural and social norms.
    • Social Safety Net: Consanguineous relationships can provide a built-in social safety net.
      • Relatives are more likely to assist each other during times of financial, emotional, or medical crises, reducing the burden on external social services.
    • Reduced Risk of Incompatibility: In some cases, marrying a close relative may reduce the risk of incompatibility in terms of cultural, religious, or social backgrounds. This can lead to more stable marriages.
    • Genetic Improvement in Animal and Plant Breeding Programs: In controlled breeding settings, mating closely related individuals is a widely used technique to strategically eliminate harmful genetic traits and enhance desirable qualities in plants and animals.
      • Through selective breeding, scientists can develop stronger and more productive strains, leading to better agricultural yields and improved livestock quality.
  • Challenges of Consanguinity:
    • Increased Risk of Genetic Disorders: The most significant challenge of consanguinity is the increased risk of offspring inheriting genetic disorders due to the sharing of common recessive genes.
      • Conditions such as cystic fibrosis disability are more prevalent among offspring of close relatives.
    • Limited Genetic Diversity: Marrying close relatives can lead to limited genetic diversity in the population, potentially reducing the overall resilience to diseases and environmental changes.
    • Complex Family Dynamics: In consanguineous families, complex family dynamics can develop, as multiple roles and relationships intersect.
      • This can lead to conflicts and tensions related to decision-making and family hierarchies.
    • Potential Erosion of Individual Autonomy: In closely-knit consanguineous communities, there can be an erosion of individual autonomy, where decisions related to marriage, family planning, and other life choices are heavily influenced by the family or community, potentially limiting personal freedom.
    • Silenced Voices in Domestic Violence Cases: In consanguineous relationships, women may be discouraged from reporting domestic violence due to familial and cultural pressures to preserve family respect.
      • This silence can perpetuate the cycle of abuse, making it difficult to seek help or intervention in cases of domestic violence.

Way Forward

Consanguinity, a practice entwined with culture, genetics, and societal norms, necessitates a delicate balance. To tackle its challenges, there is a need to respect cultural values while addressing social and health issues through education, legal safeguards, and support services like personalized medicine and genetic counseling. Empowering individuals to make informed choices while preserving cultural heritage is also crucial.

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