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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Discovers Married Couples with Common Ancestry Share Similar Genes

When two married people appear similar, it isn’t necessarily a coincidence, but may be related to the tendency to marry someone with the same ancestry—a trend that can have important effects on the genetics of different populations, says a new study co-authored by Boston University School of Public Health researchers.

The study, published in PLOS Genetics, explored genetic similarities between spouses from three generations of white people in the Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing examination of the heart health of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, which began in 1948.

In the first investigation into mating patterns across multiple generations within a U.S. population, the researchers used genomic data to characterize the ancestry of 879 participant spouse pairs. They observed that individuals of Northern European, Southern European, and Ashkenazi ancestry preferentially chose spouses of the same background. In each successive generation, however, individuals were less likely to choose a spouse with the same ancestry.

The study also showed that mating patterns caused spouses to be more genetically similar to each other than might otherwise be expected, and that the genetic structure created by these mating patterns in the population has decreased over time.

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