Wednesday, February 07, 2007

When Inbreeding Isn't So Bad

My third Just Science post:

German researchers have found a fish that prefers to mate with its relatives, rather than strangers. The result, published in Current Biology, suggests inbreeding can be a good evolutionary strategy. Timo Thünken et al. studied African cichlids (Pelvicachromis taetiatus), a river fish. They found that the fish preferred to mate with unfamiliar close kin over unrelated kin. To put it in human terms, they'd rather mate with a distant cousin than a stranger.

Why would this be a good strategy? Well, your kin are more likely to help you than a complete stranger. In this species the male and female care for the young. They have to cooperate to care and feed their young broods, which requires time and energy. The researchers measured the degree of cooperation between related and unrelated parents, and found that related parents invested significantly more time in caring for the young. The desired result is to produce more, stronger offspring.

The scientists also found that there was no inbreeding depression, which is the fancy way of saying the children weren't talking one-eyed mutants with 18 flippers.

The scientists suggest there may be other instances of inbreeding waiting to be discovered.

To be crystal clear, this is not an endorsement of human inbreeding!

Thünken et al.: “Active Inbreeding in a Cichlid Fish and Its Adaptive Significance”. Publishing in Current Biology 17, 225–229, February 6, 2007 DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2006.11.053.