Inbreeding is the production of
offspring In biology, offspring are the young creation of living organisms, produced either by a Asexual reproduction, single organism or, in the case of sexual reproduction, two organisms. Collective offspring may be known as a brood or progeny in a more ...

from the
mating In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, molecular interactions, Physiology, physiological mechanis ...

or breeding of individuals or
organism In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, molecular interactions, Physiology, physiological ...

s that are closely related genetically. By analogy, the term is used in
human reproduction Human reproduction is any form of sexual reproduction Sexual reproduction is a type of reproduction that involves a complex Biological life cycle, life cycle in which a gamete (such as a sperm or egg cell) with a single set of chromosomes (haplo ...
, but more commonly refers to the genetic disorders and other consequences that may arise from expression of
deleterious{{Short pages monitor *
Banded mongoose The banded mongoose (''Mungos mungo'') is a mongoose species native from the Sahel to Southern Africa. It lives in savannas, open forests and grasslands and feeds primarily on beetles and millipedes. Mongooses use various types of dens for shelt ...

Banded mongoose
females regularly mate with their fathers and brothers. * Bed bugs:
North Carolina State University North Carolina State University (NC State) is a public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organization An organization, or organisation ...
found that bedbugs, in contrast to most other insects, tolerate incest and are able to genetically withstand the effects of inbreeding quite well. * Common fruit fly females prefer to mate with their own brothers over unrelated males. *
Cottony cushion scale ''Icerya purchasi'' (common name Common may refer to: Places * Common, a townland in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland * Boston Common Boston Common (also known as the Common) is a central public park in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. It is ...
s: 'It turns out that females in these hermaphrodite insects are not really fertilizing their eggs themselves, but instead are having this done by a parasitic tissue that infects them at birth,' says Laura Ross of Oxford University's Department of Zoology. ‘It seems that this infectious tissue derives from left-over sperm from their father, who has found a sneaky way of having more children by mating with his daughters.' * '' Adactylidium'': The single male offspring mite mates with all the daughters when they are still in the mother. The females, now impregnated, cut holes in their mother's body so that they can emerge to find new thrips eggs. The male emerges as well, but does not look for food or new mates, and dies after a few hours. The females die at the age of 4 days, when their own offspring eat them alive from the inside.

Domestic animals

Breeding in domestic animals is primarily assortative breeding (see
selective breeding Selective breeding (also called artificial selection) is the process by which humans use animal breeding Animal breeding is a branch of animal science Animal science (also bioscience) is described as "studying the biology Biology i ...
). Without the sorting of individuals by trait, a breed could not be established, nor could poor genetic material be removed.
Homozygosity Zygosity (the noun, zygote A zygote (from Greek ζυγωτός ''zygōtos'' "joined" or "yoked", from ζυγοῦν ''zygoun'' "to join" or "to yoke") is a eukaryotic cell formed by a fertilization event between two gamete A gamete ( /ˈɡ ...
is the case where similar or identical alleles combine to express a trait that is not otherwise expressed (recessiveness). Inbreeding exposes recessive alleles through increasing homozygosity. Breeders must avoid breeding from individuals that demonstrate either homozygosity or heterozygosity for disease causing alleles. The goal of preventing the transfer of deleterious alleles may be achieved by reproductive isolation, sterilization, or, in the extreme case,
culling In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, molecular interactions, Physiology, physiological mechan ...
. Culling is not strictly necessary if genetics are the only issue in hand. Small animals such as cats and dogs may be sterilized, but in the case of large agricultural animals, such as cattle, culling is usually the only economic option. The issue of casual breeders who inbreed irresponsibly is discussed in the following quotation on cattle:
Meanwhile, milk production per cow per lactation increased from 17,444 lbs to 25,013 lbs from 1978 to 1998 for the Holstein breed. Mean breeding values for milk of Holstein cows increased by 4,829 lbs during this period. High producing cows are increasingly difficult to breed and are subject to higher health costs than cows of lower genetic merit for production (Cassell, 2001). Intensive selection for higher yield has increased relationships among animals within breed and increased the rate of casual inbreeding. Many of the traits that affect profitability in crosses of modern dairy breeds have not been studied in designed experiments. Indeed, all crossbreeding research involving North American breeds and strains is very dated (McAllister, 2001) if it exists at all.
The BBC produced two documentaries on dog inbreeding titled ''
Pedigree Dogs Exposed ''Pedigree Dogs Exposed'' is a BBC One investigative documentary, produced by Jemima Harrison, which looks into health and welfare issues facing Purebred (dog), pedigree dogs in the United Kingdom. It was originally broadcast on 19 August 2008. ...
'' and '' Pedigree Dogs Exposed: Three Years On'' that document the negative health consequences of excessive inbreeding.


Linebreeding is a form of inbreeding. There is no clear distinction between the two terms, but linebreeding may encompass crosses between individuals and their descendants or two cousins. This method can be used to increase a particular animal's contribution to the population. While linebreeding is less likely to cause problems in the first generation than does inbreeding, over time, linebreeding can reduce the genetic diversity of a population and cause problems related to a too-small gene pool that may include an increased prevalence of genetic disorders and inbreeding depression.


Outcrossing is where two unrelated individuals are crossed to produce progeny. In outcrossing, unless there is verifiable genetic information, one may find that all individuals are distantly related to an ancient progenitor. If the trait carries throughout a population, all individuals can have this trait. This is called the
founder effect In population genetics Population genetics is a subfield of that deals with genetic differences within and between s, and is a part of . Studies in this branch of examine such phenomena as , , and . Population genetics was a vital ingredie ...

founder effect
. In the well established breeds, that are commonly bred, a large gene pool is present. For example, in 2004, over 18,000 Persian cats were registered. A possibility exists for a complete outcross, if no barriers exist between the individuals to breed. However, it is not always the case, and a form of distant linebreeding occurs. Again it is up to the assortative breeder to know what sort of traits, both positive and negative, exist within the diversity of one breeding. This diversity of genetic expression, within even close relatives, increases the variability and diversity of viable stock.

Laboratory animals

Systematic inbreeding and maintenance of inbred strains of
laboratory mice The laboratory mouse or lab mouse is a small mammal Mammals (from Latin language, Latin , 'breast') are a group of vertebrate animals constituting the class (biology), class Mammalia (), and characterized by the presence of mammary glands ...
and rats is of great importance for biomedical research. The inbreeding guarantees a consistent and uniform
animal model An animal model (short for animal disease model) is a living, non-human, often genetic-engineered animal used during the research and investigation of human disease A disease is a particular abnormal condition that negatively affects the ...
for experimental purposes and enables genetic studies in congenic and knock-out animals. In order to achieve a mouse strain that is considered inbred, a minimum of 20 sequential generations of sibling matings must occur. With each successive generation of breeding, homozygosity in the entire genome increases, eliminating heterozygous loci. With 20 generations of sibling matings, homozygosity is occurring at roughly 98.7% of all loci in the genome, allowing for these offspring to serve as animal models for genetic studies. The use of inbred strains is also important for genetic studies in animal models, for example to distinguish genetic from environmental effects. The mice that are inbred typically show considerably lower survival rates.



Inbreeding increases homozygosity, which can increase the chances of the expression of deleterious recessive alleles and therefore has the potential to decrease the fitness of the offspring. With continuous inbreeding, genetic variation is lost and homozygosity is increased, enabling the expression of recessive deleterious alleles in homozygotes. The
coefficient of inbreeding In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ...
, or the degree of inbreeding in an individual, is an estimate of the percent of homozygous alleles in the overall genome. The more biologically related the parents are, the greater the coefficient of inbreeding, since their genomes have many similarities already. This overall homozygosity becomes an issue when there are deleterious recessive alleles in the gene pool of the family. By pairing chromosomes of similar genomes, the chance for these recessive alleles to pair and become homozygous greatly increases, leading to offspring with autosomal recessive disorders. Inbreeding is especially problematic in small populations where the genetic variation is already limited. By inbreeding, individuals are further decreasing genetic variation by increasing homozygosity in the genomes of their offspring. Thus, the likelihood of deleterious recessive alleles to pair is significantly higher in a small inbreeding population than in a larger inbreeding population. The fitness consequences of consanguineous mating have been studied since their scientific recognition by
Charles Darwin Charles Robert Darwin (; ; 12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organism In biology, an organism () is any organic, life, living system that fu ...

Charles Darwin
in 1839. Some of the most harmful effects known from such breeding includes its effects on the mortality rate as well as on the general health of the offspring. Since the 1960s, there have been many studies to support such debilitating effects on the human organism. Specifically, inbreeding has been found to decrease fertility as a direct result of increasing homozygosity of deleterious recessive alleles. Fetuses produced by inbreeding also face a greater risk of spontaneous abortions due to inherent complications in development. Among mothers who experience stillbirths and early infant deaths, those that are inbreeding have a significantly higher chance of reaching repeated results with future offspring. Additionally, consanguineous parents possess a high risk of premature birth and producing underweight and undersized infants. Viable inbred offspring are also likely to be inflicted with physical deformities and genetically inherited diseases. Studies have confirmed an increase in several genetic disorders due to inbreeding such as blindness, hearing loss, neonatal diabetes, limb malformations,
disorders of sex development Disorders of sex development (DSDs), also known as differences in sex development, diverse sex development and variations in sex characteristics (VSC), are congenital conditions affecting the reproductive system The reproductive system of an ...
, schizophrenia and several others. Moreover, there is an increased risk for congenital heart disease depending on the inbreeding coefficient (See
coefficient of inbreeding In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ...
) of the offspring, with significant risk accompanied by an F =.125 or higher.


The general negative outlook and eschewal of inbreeding that is prevalent in the
Western world The Western world, also known as the West, refers to various regions, nations and state (polity), states, depending on the context, most often consisting of the majority of Europe, Northern America, and Australasia.
today has roots from over 2000 years ago. Specifically, written documents such as the Bible illustrate that there have been laws and social customs that have called for the abstention from inbreeding. Along with cultural taboos, parental education and awareness of inbreeding consequences have played large roles in minimizing inbreeding frequencies in areas like Europe. That being so, there are less urbanized and less populated regions across the world that have shown continuity in the practice of inbreeding. The continuity of inbreeding is often either by choice or unavoidably due to the limitations of the geographical area. When by choice, the rate of consanguinity is highly dependent on religion and culture. In the Western world some
Anabaptist Anabaptism (from New Latin language, Neo-Latin , from the Greek language, Greek : "re-" and "baptism", german: Täufer, earlier also )Since the middle of the 20th century, the German-speaking world no longer uses the term (translation: "Re-ba ...
groups are highly inbred because they originate from small founder populations and until today marriage outside the groups is not allowed for members. Especially the Reidenbach Old Order Mennonites and the
Hutterites Hutterites (german: link=no, Hutterer), also called Hutterian Brethren (German: ), are a communal A commune is an intentional community of people sharing living spaces, interests, values, beliefs, and often property Property (''lati ...
stem from very small founder populations. The same is true for some
Hasidic Hasidism, sometimes spelled Chassidism, and also known as Hasidic Judaism ( he, חסידות, Ḥăsīdut, ; originally, "piety"), is a Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are an e ...
and groups. Of the practicing regions, Middle Eastern and northern Africa territories show the greatest frequencies of consanguinity. The link between the high frequency and the region is primarily due to the dominance of Islamic populations, who have historically engaged in familyline relations. Among these populations with high levels of inbreeding, researchers have found several disorders prevalent among inbred offspring. In
Lebanon Lebanon ( , ar, لُبْنَان, translit=lubnān, ), officially the Republic of Lebanon or the Lebanese Republic, is a country in Western Asia Western Asia, West Asia, or Southwest Asia, is the westernmost subregion A subregion is a part ...

Saudi Arabia (''Shahada'') , national_anthem = "National Anthem of Saudi Arabia, " "National Anthem of Saudi Arabia" , image_map = Saudi Arabia (orthographic projection).svg , capital = Riyadh , coordinates ...

Saudi Arabia
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مِصر, Miṣr), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a transcontinental country This is a list of countries located on more than one continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identi ...

, and in
Israel Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל, translit=Yīsrāʾēl; ar, إِسْرَائِيل, translit=ʾIsrāʾīl), officially the State of Israel ( he, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, label=none, translit=Medīnat Yīsrāʾēl; ), is a ...

, the offspring of consanguineous relationships have an increased risk of congenital malformations, congenital heart defects, congenital
hydrocephalus :''This article concerns the medical condition. For the hydrocephalus creature in American folklore that bares this condition as a part of its legend, see melon heads In the American folklore of Ohio, Michigan and Connecticut, Melon Heads are b ...

neural tube defect Neural tube defects (NTDs) are a group of birth defects in which an opening in the Vertebral column, spine or cranium remains from early in human development. In the third week of pregnancy called gastrulation, specialized cells on the dorsal si ...
s. Furthermore, among inbred children in
Palestine Palestine ( or ) most often refers to: * State of Palestine, a ''de jure'' sovereign state in the Middle East * Palestine (region), a geographical and historical region in the Middle East Palestine may also refer to: * Palestinian National Aut ...
and Lebanon, there is a positive association between consanguinity and reported
cleft lip/palate A cleft lip contains an opening in the upper lip that may extend into the nose. The opening may be on one side, both sides, or in the middle. A cleft palate occurs when the palate (the roof of the mouth) contains an opening into the nasal cavity ...

cleft lip/palate
cases. Historically, populations of Qatar have engaged in consanguineous relationships of all kinds, leading to high risk of inheriting genetic diseases. As of 2014, around 5% of the Qatari population suffered from hereditary hearing loss; most were descendants of a consanguineous relationship.

Royalty and nobility

Inter-nobility marriage was used as a method of forming political alliances among elites. These ties were often sealed only upon the birth of progeny within the arranged marriage. Thus marriage was seen as a union of lines of nobility and not as a contract between individuals. Royal intermarriage was often practiced among European royal families, usually for interests of state. Over time, due to the relatively limited number of potential consorts, the gene pool of many ruling families grew progressively smaller, until all European royalty was related. This also resulted in many being descended from a certain person through many lines of descent, such as the numerous European royalty and nobility descended from the British Victoria of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria or King Christian IX of Denmark. The House of Habsburg was known for its intermarriages; the Prognathism, Habsburg lip often cited as an ill-effect. The closely related houses of Habsburg, House of Bourbon, Bourbon, House of Braganza, Braganza and House of Wittelsbach, Wittelsbach also frequently engaged in first-cousin unions as well as the occasional Cousin#Additional terms, double-cousin and uncle–niece marriages. In ancient Egypt, royal women were believed to carry the bloodlines and so it was advantageous for a pharaoh to marry his sister or half-sister; in such cases a special combination between endogamy and polygamy is found. Normally, the old ruler's eldest son and daughter (who could be either siblings or half-siblings) became the new rulers. All rulers of the Ptolemaic dynasty uninterruptedly from Ptolemy IV (Ptolemy II married his sister but had no issue) were married to their brothers and sisters, so as to keep the Ptolemaic blood "pure" and to strengthen the line of succession. King Tutankhamun's mother is reported to have been the half-sister to his father, Cleopatra VII (also called Cleopatra VI) and Ptolemy XIII, who married and became co-rulers of ancient Egypt following their father's death, are the most widely known example.

See also


External links

Dale Vogt, Helen A. Swartz and John Massey, 1993. ''Inbreeding: Its Meaning, Uses and Effects on Farm Animals''. University of Missouri, Extension.

Consanguineous marriages with global map
* {{Incest Population genetics Breeding Incest Kinship and descent