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Disease and Diversity

January 18, 2006

It’s well known that inbred animals are more likely to inherit genetic diseases. But did you know that they are also more susceptible to infectious diseases?


The dangers of inbreeding. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Are inbred animals more likely to get sick? New research in house finches says yes. These common backyard birds were brought to the eastern U-S as pets in the early 20th century. A few escaped and multiplied, creating a large, inbred population. Now, many of them are dying, victims of a bacterial disease epidemic. Smithsonian disease ecologist Dana Hawley has found that it’s the finches’ lack of genetic diversity that left them especially susceptible to the disease.

DANA HAWLEY (Smithsonian Disease Ecologist):
It seems to be backed up by the fact that when the disease reached the native populations—which have higher levels of diversity—it did not spread nearly as quickly and it seems to be at lower levels in those populations.

Hawley says this means protecting genetic diversity is an essential part of protecting animal species.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.